Thursday, May 8, 2014

Robot Carnival

Robot Carnival; animated science-fiction, Japan, 1987; D: Atusko Fukushima, Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto, Hidetoshi Omori, Yasuomi Umetsu, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Mao Lamdo, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Takashi Nakamura

Numerous stories linked only by the theme of robots: in a desert village, people hide in their houses when they hear about the upcoming "Robot Carnival" sign... Two girls enter a futuristic amusement park. One girl runs away when she sees her boyfriend with another girl. In a joyride, she experiences an action adventure involving robots... A robot child wanders through a panorama with cloud images in the background... Robot ships invade a city and kidnap a girl, but a cyborg-man saves her... A married man secretly built a robot girl in his basement because he needs "basic love". He smashes the robot when it/she develops a strong personality. As an old man, he is again visited by the robot-girl... A scientist builds a robot in his laboratory... In the 19th century Japan, people operate two two giant, wooden robots fighting each other... In a city at night, freaky robots come to life and are controlled by a strange being. A bum witnesses the event and is chased by the robots. But they stop at sunrise.

Nine directors were given free hand to do whatever they want for nine short stories - as long as they respect the main theme, robots - and the result was anime anthology film "Robot Carnival", which is overall predictably eclectic: styles, moods and themes clash and blend, since we have everything, from drama, comedy, action up to pure experimental avant-garde. As such, the quality is inevitably uneven and restricted to each episode - even the animation quality - but not a single segment is bad. Excluding the opening and closing segment, which serve more as an (teaser) intro and outro, there are seven stories here, while only two have dialogues. Four stories are solid, but your run-of-the-mill action or SF, and one is very good, "Nightmare", where machines come to life one night in Tokyo, and only one bum is witness to the scary spectacle, which is a fine blend of paranoia, surreal and the subconscious fear that nobody will believe if you witnessed something out of this world.

However, two episodes surmount the rest: Yasuomi Umetsu's "Presence" and Mao Lamdo's "Cloud". They are the only two episodes worthy of a deeper analysis. Excellent "Presence" is thought provoking - is it moral for a married man to simply "construct" and "audit" his own girl robot in a basement? Is the main hero actually an antihero, since he wants the robot girl not for a romantic love, but for "something more basic"? - and has a touching ending that said a lot about human-AI relationships, long before Jonze's "Her". However, "Cloud" even surmounts "Presence": Lamdo directs one of the most beautiful experimental shorts in the history of cinema, consisting only out of a robot-kid walking across a panorama while clouds change shapes in the background. There has been a lot of discussion what this "static ride" represents - since cloud shapes of a dinosaur, a naked man, a mushroom cloud and a rocket are shown, some have argued that it represents the history of Earth, yet the clouds go even further than that, showing even UFOs, waves and fairies, which makes this even more mysterious - and on top of all, the travelling robot-kid may not even be a robot, but simply a foreign being experiencing our galaxy in a different perception, but either way, "Cloud" is a small masterwork and advanced into an anime jewel.



Christopher Sobieniak said...

At least you dig "Cloud". That was my fave! "Presence" certainly deserves a mention too.

Marin Mandir said...

Who wouldn't dig "Cloud"? Tastes certainly differ, but I presume that a large number of viewers who saw the film at least liked "Cloud", if not more. I found it terrific. "Presence" is a close 2nd in the anthology.