I think I’ve seen Roujin Z described a dark comedy fairly often, but one that is set within the plot boundaries (I guess) of a science fiction film. Or even of a monster movie, since there is definitely something large and dangerous threatening the city here.
Roujin Z Rōjin Zetto (1991)
But one obvious theme that gets discussed just as regularly, is the treatment and care of the elderly.
It’s obviously a topic that doesn’t get a lot of attention in any film medium, not just anime, so I was glad to see it in Roujin Z. It adds a lot of sombre moments, and painful ones too, the kind of ones that you’d hope policy-makers and bean-counters would take heed of.
Okay, so here’s the premise phrased as a question – what if a high-tech bed, one that doubled as a life-support system for the elderly, went on a rampage? (Okay, there’s a LOT more to it than that, but I don’t want to go into spoilers here. Also, I’m feeling a bit lazy).
Despite all of my reading about the film, it took me many years to finally find and watch Roujin Z, and I went in with pretty high expectations, noting director Hiroyuki Kitakubo and writer Katsuhiro Otomo (amongst others like Satoshi Kon), behind the scenes.
I was certainly not disappointed either – as it is amazing from start to finish, from animation to story and character, setting; it’s all executed so well to my eye.
Perhaps especially the characterisation.
It’s not jam-packed with one-note characters for a start.
Instead, the themes are played out via the conflicts both between and within the leads, as much as it is via the technology.
And more disconcerting than the militarised aspect to Kijuro’s bed, is the supposed dignified, helpful aspects – such as the management of bodily functions. The well-intentioned but misguided Takashi embodies the tragic need for such a device, and it’s great to see him drift away from antagonist to take a stand against the larger threat, military stooge Yoshihiko.
Other smaller characters are nice mixes of principled and cowardly, and even the ‘horny old guy’ trope so common to anime doesn’t just lumber its way through the anime; as the elderly residents who band together to save Kijuro reveal more than one facet to their actions.
Visually, I was of course super-happy to see lots of detail and integration of character and setting/background, to see the old school ‘solid’ use of colour to evoke different lighting effects. Another stand out aspect were the flashbacks, they had a sombre tone, matched by the softer colours, and the ‘disappearing’ of the characters.
Getting back to character now, before I finish, I meant to mention her before, but Haruko is a classic anime heroine, kind, strong and moral, and determined enough to get some justice without superpowers or gadgets.
Great ending and the final shot is a nice surprise too.