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Although it may sound like a film following the exploits of a robotic gangster, “Robo-G” is in fact a Japanese outing charting the wackiness that ensues when an old man is hired to masquerade as a robot. The film is the latest from director Yaguchi Shinobu, the man behind a string of hugely successful feel good comedies including “Water Boys” and “Swing Girls”, with former rocker Igarashi Shinjiro (better known as Mickey Curtis) as the elderly protagonist. An upbeat, family friendly crowd-pleaser, the film proved another hit for Yaguchi at the domestic box office, as well as playing to praise at a variety of international genre festivals.
The film opens with three engineers called Hiroki (Hamada Gaku, “Fish Story”), Koji (Chan Kawai), and Shinya (Junya Kawashima, “Go Find a Psychic!”) failing to produce a working autonomous robot for their company. With an important expo just around the corner, they hatch a plan to hire someone to play the robot in a suit, hoping that a few minutes on stage will be enough to buy them time to finish the real product. Unfortunately, their only choice turns out to be Suzuki (Igarashi Shinjiro), a grumpy 73 year old man who only auditioned to give himself something to fill his empty days. Although Suzuki initially does a decent enough job on stage, the old man puts on a rather flamboyant display, culminating him saving perky young robot-geek student Yoko (Yoshitaka Yuriko, “We Were There”) from an accident and making headlines as a result. With the whole country believing the robot to be real, Hiroki, Gaku and Shinya are thrown into a very difficult situation, and try to persuade Suzuki to keep up the charade while Yoko and a pushy reporter (Tabata Tomoko) get closer to the truth.
“Robo-G” is very much in line with Yaguchi Shinobu’s previous films, the director choosing not to stray far from the underdog stories which he made his name with. For fans, and anyone looking for two hours of good-natured, cheerful entertainment, this is definitely great news, as the film delivers exactly as promised, Yaguchi taking the amusing old man disguised as a robot premise and milking it for plenty of laughs. Without tugging too much at the heart strings, the film is a kind, humanistic affair that does a good job of gently exploring the marginalisation of the elderly in Japan, portraying Suzuki as a bad-tempered though likeable old cuss, ignored by his family and quietly desperate to find a place in society. With the three engineers and college student Yoko all also trying to make their mark, Yaguchi depicts different generations and societal groups all coming together in unison to basically do their best, and this gives the film a positive, enthusiastic feel which makes for optimistic and reasonably charming viewing.
The Japanese robotics industry also serves as an interesting background for the film, and the many scenes of robots should definitely appeal to sci-fi and technology aficionados – being a particularly meticulous director with an eye for the smallest details, Yaguchi apparently researched and came up with a blueprint for the film’s robot that could actually be built into a real life version. Though it might be tempting to read deeper into the man/machine dichotomy, with Suzuki disguised as the kind of robot being invented to take over the manual labour he spent his life doing, such concerns are kept largely to the background, the focus mainly being on humour.
Generally revolving around slapstick, the inoffensive comedy mostly hits home, and though the film goes through a slow patch in the middle, it’s generally funny throughout, with the standout scenes coming early on during the robot auditions and the old man getting used to the clunky disguise. Igarashi Shinjiro and Yoshitaka Yuriko are both on appealing and entertaining form, the former playing things understated and the latter cutesy and over the top, and this also adds to the overall amiability.
Though there’s nothing too challenging or original here and the story is predictable to a fault, “Robo-G” nevertheless makes for very pleasant viewing. Yaguchi Shinobu again proves himself one of the better directors of uplifting underdog comedies, and the film raises a smile and warms the heart exactly as expected.
Shinobu Yaguchi (director) / Shinobu Yaguchi (screenplay)
CAST: Naoto Takenaka