Friday, August 1, 2008

REVIEW: Robo Rock - Taikan Suga (2007)

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

Everyone loves robots. That seems to be the general consensus, at least among nerdy film afficiacondos such as myself. Granted, for every Robocop, we get a Short Circuit 2, but the good to bad ratio for robots on film is pretty high. So, when my eyes first read the title Robo Rock, I was sold. I didn’t need to read the description. I refused to. It’s obviously got some rock music in the film, and most definitely robots, so what else do I need to know?

I’m sure GDH Group, the popular gaming and animation house that developed Robo Rock, probably had the same thought running through their minds that I did. Give us a film with solid, decent-looking robots! And director Taikan Suga delivers! Masaru, played by Shun Shioya, is a “handy-man.” He performs odd jobs for various seedy characters that infest the underbelly of Tokyo . A normal life won’t cut it for failed musician Masaru; he prefers living off of his tattoo artist girlfriend Kiriko, and working for bar owner/gangster Ebuse, played brilliantly by Miike favourite Kenichi Endo. In between stealing women’s underwear and meeting Etsuro Nirasawa, a man obsessed with the Land Zeppelin (a giant robot built by the Japanese government in the 1960’s to defend earth from alien invaders), Masaru crosses the quirky Tom Brothers, two Westerners who’ve weaseled their way into the Japanese underworld, stringing along Masaru’s friend and fellow “handy-man” Ko with drugs. Soon, Masaru becomes embroiled in the trade of a rare Janis Joplin record with scores of gangsters on his trail. Luckily, Masaru also happens to have the exact same vocal frequencies that the now deceased creator of the Land Zeppelin had! Nirasawa happened to discover this while sifting through old cassettes tapes, stumbling across one for Masaru’s now defunct band, and their single ‘Don’t Eat Fish’. You see, fish don’t make any sound, so eating fish will make you lose your singing voice. Or so the song goes. Too bad that by this point Masaru has given up on himself and his life, and has succumbed to eating fish.

Robo Rock is A LOT of fun. Yes, it’s essentially a feel good movie about believing in yourself, but it’s a feel good movie with robots! It also manages to be utterly outrageous, zany, and hilarious, while still remaining grounded enough to ease into the few melodramatic scenes, giving the entire film a sense of cohesion. Nothing seems forced, everything flows naturally. This is quite a feat, considering how much of a mish-mash of genres Robo Rock is. Comedy, melodrama, robots, gangsters, scientists, alien attacks, panties, drug abuse, rock 'n' roll and tattoos. Robo Rock manages to switch gears with ease, and ends with a climax that will leave you cheering and/or rolling on the floor with laughter. The Land Zeppelin, like the rest of the film, while completely ridiculous, remains realistic in design (as realistic as giant robots can be), favouring a slow, lumbering giant, as opposed to a more hyper real Robotech inspired creation. It also happens to be well designed and well rendered.

Robo Rock delivers everything you expect from a film entitled Robo Rock. A ‘don’t give up on your rock ‘n’ roll dream’ plot featuring robots!

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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