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Robot Carnival

Entry updated 3 May 2021. Tagged: Film.

Japanese animated film (1987). Original title Robotto Kānibaru. A.P.P.P. Directors and writers are named below. Voice cast includes James R Bowers, Junko Machida and Kohji Moritsugu. 90 minutes. Colour.

An anthology of sf shorts featuring Robots, eight in all (nine if the linked opening and closing segments are counted separately). Only two stories have dialogue.

Opening directed by Katsuhiro Ōtomo: a monolithic, decrepit structure on caterpillar tracks runs over a desert settlement as, with performing robots, it announces the Robot Carnival. Furanken no Haguruma (vt Franken's Gears) directed by Koji Morimoto: in scenes echoing the film Frankenstein (1931), a Scientist brings a robot to life; he has it mimic his actions, so when he accidentally falls over the robot does too, crushing him. Deprive directed by Hidetoshi Ōmori: after his young human companion is kidnapped by invading robots, an Android upgrades himself and rescues her, in fast-cut action scenes; a movie's worth of plot is covered in seven minutes. Purezensu (vt Presence) directed by Yasuomi Umetsu: in what resembles early twentieth-century Britain – but with advanced Technology, including robots – a man (Moritsugu) builds a feminine android (Machida) in reaction to his career-minded wife. When it develops consciousness (see Identity; AI) and demands affection he panics and destroys it. Many decades later, the android reappears twice, seemingly as a vision; on the second occasion they walk off together. Star Light Angel directed by Hiroyuki Kitazume: a romantic story set in a Disneyland-like amusement park, with men in robot suits and Virtual Reality Mecha. Cloud directed by Manabu Ōhashi as "Mao Lamdo": a robot child walks on clouds as a backdrop of events – including human history – passes by; finally, a sympathetic angel makes him human. Meiji Karakuri Bunmei Kitan: Kōmōjin Shūrai no Maki (vt Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner's Invasion; vt A Tale of Two Robots, Chapter 3: Foreign Invasion) directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo: a western scientist (Bowers) in a mecha invades nineteenth-century Japan: he is defeated by a coastal town's own mecha, but vows to return. Niwatori Otoko to Akaikubi (vt Chicken Man and Redneck; vt Nightmare) directed by Takashi Nakamura: a drunkard witnesses a city's night-time transformation as robots and machinery frolic; come dawn, things return to not-quite normality. Ending directed by Katsuhiro Ōtomo: a continuation of the opening where we see the fate of the Robot Carnival structure, plus end credits.

For its time, some of the Robot Carnival animation is exceptional. This is a strong, entertaining and varied Anime collection, with only Star Light Angel being forgettable. The standouts are Furanken no Haguruma, though basically a set-up for a joke – the enjoyment comes from the details of the mad scientist's laboratory; Cloud is beautiful, looking as if drawn in pencil; Meiji Karakuri is farcical, jokingly recalling Japanese World War Two propaganda; and Niwatori Otoko is a riot of mechanical imagery. Of the others, Purezensu, though memorable, is let down by an unsatisfying ending; Deprive is like a trailer for an exciting film; whilst Opening and Ending appropriately bookend this movie. [SP]


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