BluRay Review: ROUJIN-Z has hardly aged
Last month Manga UK released the Japanese animated film "Roujin-Z" on BluRay, and I couldn't wait to scoop it up. A hit on VHS back in the days, I had yet to see a proper version show up on DVD. Oh, there were some, but they weren't exactly brilliant or doing the film any justice over that old VHS-tape.
"Roujin-Z" was Katsuhiro Otomo's big project made after his flawed-yet-seminal "Akira" and while the scale of events was noticeably smaller, so was the number of flaws. "Roujin-Z" was a bit more even-tempered and more thoughtful. It also presented a view on modern living which was far closer to reality. But that was then, in 1991.
It is now 2012. Has "Roujin-Z" lost any of its meaningfulness or poignancy during the last two decades?
And how good is Manga UK's release? Read on!
It's the early 21st century and Japan, like most other countries, is faced with a rapidly aging mean population. As more and more people get really old, there is an increased demand for care which the younger generations aren't always willing or able to provide.
But then a new invention is revealed to the public: The Z-001, an automated bed that feeds, washes and cares for the patient within.
The test version takes care of Mr. Takazawa, a very old fragile man suffering from loneliness and dementia.
When the computer in the Z-001 starts to think it is Takazawa's deceased wife, it wants to take its "husband" to the sea for one last vacation. The bed starts to grow and absorb nearby technology. Soon, the Z-001 transforms itself into something mobile and leaves the hospital, starting on a path of destruction that leads to the beach...
Back in the eighties hardly anyone in the West knew about anime. Studio Ghibli had just released its first few masterworks but those films by them which traveled to the US had often been butchered beyond recognition. While anyone watching kiddie animation on television probably knew that some of those series had their origin in Japan, it was much less well-known at the time that adult animation was getting quite popular and that the Japanese animation industry had, at times, the tendency to go flat-out crazy in a production.
That all changed at the tail-end of the eighties with the release of "Akira". Suddenly there was a flagship title which, for many, heralded the existence of a totally unknown genre. The adult content, the twisted subject matter, the different pacing and the nearly religious attention to detail did set it apart from everything else. Of course fans started looking for similar groundbreaking films in Japanese animated science fiction, but they had to wait until 1995 before "Ghost in the Shell" arrived.
In the meantime, there was "Roujin-Z"...
Although it was written and produced by "Akira"-creator Katsuhiro Otomo (who also provided many of the technical designs), "Roujin-Z" was directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo who would go on to hit the jackpot eight years later with "Blood: The Last Vampire". Another attached name who'd become very big was Satoshi Kon, who did the art direction here and would go on to direct "Perfect Blue", "Millennium Actress", "Paprika" and "Paranoia Agent".
That is quite a pedigree, and the film is all the richer for it.
While "Roujin-Z" is nowhere near as insane, expensive, accomplished or ambitious as "Akira", it should not be dismissed. The film has a strong heart in its depiction of the elderly, whether they are capable and sane or demented and paralyzed. At times the film becomes a scathing indictment of a society that wishes nothing more than to bury these people in a place where they'll stop bothering us.
But even when taken at face value as a science fiction film with a monster which needs to be stopped (the bed, not society), "Roujin-Z" impressively delivers the goods. While its budget prevents showing mass-destruction in the sort of detail that "Akira" did, it still looks creepy and suitably terrifying in places, with Otomo adding plenty of his signature "all-bets-are-off" feel to the film.
The story is simple and easy to understand, the main protagonist (a young nurse in training who used to take care of Mr. Takazawa) is likable and the monster is as sad as it is scary. That there are layers and layers of social commentary underneath doesn't hurt this film one bit.
"Roujin-Z" is a classic. A minor one perhaps, especially when held next to its vastly more famous elder brother, but a classic nonetheless. Technical details like computer screens (all still CRT instead of LCD or LED) now look dated and so does the 100% handdrawn art. But apart from that the film has only become more topical in recent years. It has hardly aged at all, and parts of it even seem to have grown more valid in the last two decades...
The smaller scale may have labeled it to be an "Akira light" on Katsuhiro Otomo's resumée, but "Roujin-Z" is still mighty impressive on that front. Even more impressive is its depiction of care for the elderly, an issue which hasn't aged one bit. Successful both as cautionary science-fiction and social commentary, "Roujin-Z" is one of Otomo's most adult endeavors and watching it is highly recommended!
About the BluRay:
Manga UK has released "Roujin-Z" on BluRay working together with Kaze, and indeed this disc is exactly the same as the French, Italian and German editions. It's a disc with no frills and no extras, and coded for region B (Europe),
First things first: the image. I've owned "Roujin-Z" over the past two decades in different formats, but this one is almost unfathomably stronger. The artwork is generally quite coarse and doesn't feature cgi, so you might wonder how big a difference the upgrade to HD makes here. Well: it's a lot! While that also says a thing or two about the DVD transfers in the past (none of them were really good) the sheer sharpness of the image here is stunning. Colors are more subtle than I remember, but the image is very pleasing to the eye and I was able to pick out many details which weren't visible on earlier releases due to contrast issues.
Next up is sound. There are English and Spanish stereo tracks, but the main event here is the Japanese 5.1 track. There are also German, French and Italian 5.1 tracks available, while subtitles can be chosen for English, French, German, Italian and... Dutch! My native language, covered!
I checked the Dutch and the English subs and they were really good.
As for extras, nope, there aren't any.
But the main feature is good on AV-quality and the release is attractively priced, so this release comes recommended.
The "Roujin-Z" BluRay is Now on sale in the UK. You can buy this disc through our affiliate (click here).