The newest film from director Shinobu Yaguchi, Robo-G, is a film that I was highly anticipating this year due to the previous comedies directed by the auteur. Having placed Swing Girls and Waterboys on my list of favorite Japanese comedies, the premise of Robo-G struck me as an odd choice, SF, for the generally hobby/career type comedies in his filmography.
Basically the film’s plot is as so; when a robot prototype is accidentally destroyed just days before a major robotics expo, the three bumbling engineers think of a major scam to still be able to present a product, have a person wear a robot suit and pose as a working robot! Enter Shigemitsu Suzuki, played by the legendary Mickey Curtis, a retired senior who is finding retirement both boring and seemingly a waste to what he feels he can offer. At first tricked into wearing the suit under the belief that he was portraying a costumed character, he inadvertently makes a splash at the expo when he rescues young robotics student and robot otaku, Sasaki Yoko (Yuriko Yoshitaka) from a falling display. Suddenly finding themselves under intense scrutiny because of the heroic act, the three engineers (Gaku Hamada, Junya Kawashima, and Kawai Shogo) convince Suzuki to continue to wear the suit while they go on a promotional tour showcasing the robot, all the while media attention and interest is at an all time high. This goes for the brilliant and now totally obsessed Yoko, who hopes to discover the robot’s secrets and one day work with the engineers. As the truth gets closer to the surface, will the engineers be able to create a real robot that can emulate what functions the showboating Suzuki has ‘demonstrated?’
Actors are good all around though I really enjoyed the work of Curtis and Yamashita in particular. When Curtis is in the suit he reveals an adept physical comedian and the montage of the traveling demonstrations had the laughs coming quick and often. Yamashita’s obsessive but cute Yoko was a real eye opener since I had only ever seen her in the Gantz live action adaptations. She is very funny and really took to Yaguchi’s style of film. The engineers are solid but don’t really exist as individuals but instead as a singular character. This is common in many Japanese media and when you see them you will recognize the cliche. Of note is the fantastic facial reactions of everyone in the film. While we the audience know how absurd what we are seeing on screen truly is, when the characters realize it too creates those great moments in the film. You have a truly expressive cast and catching the double takes and faces they pull is great.
Written as well as directed by Yaguchi, the film features much of the director’s trademark humor. Much of the comedy is spot on and I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions. Cameos from many familiar faces in Japanese cinema are commonplace and as fun to spot as in, say, the films of Western directors like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. Shot well, the film uses mostly static camera photography, but it fits quite well to Yaguchi’s style of reaction shots and the ‘payoff’ punchlines. Music is good with an airy score for most of the film but there is some memorable use of licensed music, included a well chosen enka song during a contemplative suicide attempt as well as a solid rendition of “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto” by Mickey Curtis himself.
In the end, I really enjoyed Robo-G. Its engaging and truly funny story of the man beneath a robot is unique and one of the better Japanese comedies I’ve seen in the past few years. Wholly satisfying, I see this being right at home with the director’s pretty outstanding filmography. For those who enjoy the clean and quirky nature of Japanese comedy, this film is definitely for you.