Roujin Z

Let's care for the elderly… with robots!

Rating: 4

Written by OOTOMO Katsuhiro (大友 克洋, "Akira", "Memories", "Steamboy"), directed by KITAKUBO Hiroyuki (北久保 弘之, "Robot Carnival", "Golden Boy"), this is a tale about old age, AIs, transforming robots, the welfare state.

The story: an elderly man get chosen to be put into a prototype mechanised medical bed, which should provide him with full life-support and assistance, much better than what could be accomplished with more manpower-intensive care in a standard hospital. Haruko, the nurse who used to assist him, is sceptical. The AI in the bed is very keen to help the old man, and with some unexpected input from a team of sprightly old hackers in the retirement home, it takes on the personality of his deceased wife, and decides to bring him to the beach. And, given that the bed is essentially a transforming robot capable of incorporating whatever machines it finds, stopping it is not an easy task.

This movie is an interesting piece of anime history: it was originally released in 1991, 21 years ago, just 3 years after Akira. Japan had been feeling the pressure of its ageing population for some time already, and it's no surprise that writers like Ootomo, with a SF slant, would think of technological solutions. But, like any good writer, Ootomo did not just assume that technology would "magically" solve all problems. Technology is designed, built, and deployed by people, and people make mistakes, people have personal goals, people have different opinions. And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Accordingly, this movie shows, with humour and without lecturing, that complex problems require complex solutions. Properly caring for the elderly requires human-level intelligence and empathy, and if your self-improving AI is to meet the challenge, it may well learn to empathise, and do anything in its power to make the old man happy. Building the bed out of what is, essentially, a military-grade multi-purpose assault tank might not have been, in retrospect, the smartest of ideas :)

I don't think that releasing Solid State Society and Roujin Z to the English-speaking world just three weeks apart was an intentional choice, but they are very close thematically: they are both reflecting an the consequences to society of having too many old people who can't look after themselves, and who have no family to look after them. Both movies present technological solutions (or would-be solutions) to the issues, both movies deal with AIs, man-machine interfaces, and the importance of "humanness". If you can stand the 20 years of distance in the drawing and animation techniques, I strongly encourage you to watch both: they're good "food for thought".

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DatesCreated: 2012-09-23 19:38:47 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24