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In the Early part of the 21st Century, Japan is slowly sinking beneath its aging population, which requires a great deal of personal and financial support. The answer is the Z-001, a computerised robot bed, which deal with all the physical and entertainment needs of its occupant. To test the prototype, the government selects the slightly senile and terminally ill Kiyuro Takazawa. All begins as it should until Takazawa expresses a desire to go to the beach. The Z-001, in an effort to fulfil all his needs, detaches itself from its base, turns into a mecha and makes its way across the city, chased by the government...
Roujin Z (1991 - 1 hr, 19 min, 49 sec) is a humorous science fiction anime, with a darker message. Whilst the film was written by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), it was left to Hiroyuki Kitakubo (Blood: The Last Vampire) to take up the director's seat.
Following the success and sheer artistic achievement of Akira, Otomo and Kitakubo’s follow on project had neither the budget nor the artistic resources of its predecessor. Roujin is a much more simple tale, which stylistically only has a passing resemblance to Akira.
Moving away from its bigger brother, Roujin has a charm of its own. There are thematic similarities between the two works. Both have a bombastic authority figure, both have their rebels against the status quo - in Roujin this role is taken by Haruko, a young nursing student who takes care of Takazawa and finds herself at odd with the authorities when she feels that the machine cannot offer him the same level of emotional support as a human. She uses her connections with a group of aging hackers to provide Takazawa’s machine with the voice of his departed wife. When Takazawa’s machine starts it journey to the sea Haruko follow half in fear, half in celebration.
The animation style is simpler than Akira, at times only a few elements are moving within the picture, and the film's age has started to show a little. Neither as complex as Akira, nor as slick as more modern animes, the film nevertheless pulls you into its narrative with the strength of the script.
What starts as a good idea, good care for the elderly, soon evolves into something more sinister. The Z-100 appear not to be designed to enhance the life of the elderly, rather it is a neat way of side-lining and silencing a group of citizens, who in this youth obsessed culture are seen as redundant. As such, the film is a damming indictment of how many cultures marginalise and devalue its elderly populations.
Given the hard times which we are going through, it’s good to see more anime appearing on Blu-ray. Let us not pretend that it is often a niche market, so you have to be quick to pick it up as it becomes available. The picture looks as good as the day it was drawn, with a DTS HD MA audio track, with a choice of languages, French, English, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and German.
The disc comes with no extras, which is a real shame, as the novice may be unaware of where the film sits historically. Still, it’s well worth picking up, especially as it was made by the golden team of Otomo and Kitakubo.