Saturday, June 11, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Maid-Droid (2009)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

In a near-future Tokyo where human-like (and dog-like) androids are quite typical household appliances for the discerning otaku, an old man reminisces wistfully to his beloved, now battery-less and unmoving Maid-Droid Maria (Anri Suzuki) about their shared life. A sexless life (at least in the Bill Clinton sense of the phrase), I might add, because Maria was a prototype of her kind and not fit to be updated for sex. Since the old man was pure-hearted and terribly in love with his android, this meant a pure virginal love with occasional blowjobs for them.

While the old man is reminiscing, a robot rapist stalks Tokyo and a female cop (Mari Yamaguchi?) with strong emotions about the whole android business is trying her best to find out who built the robot and what went wrong. She will find a truth bound to bring the film's audience to tears of laughter.

Both plot strands - I use the word "plot" in the broadest possible sense here - will never meet, but are supposed to mirror each other while demonstrating the differences between men and women in the writer's and director's minds.

You'd expect a pinku mixing the Japanese pervy love for maids, robots, panty shots and rape to be the sort of film that's easily explained and dismissed by exclaiming "Oh those whacky Japanese!" and then looking piously the other way. Maid-Droid, however, is a bit more complex than it seems.

There is no question that the film is cheap, silly, and at times nastily misogynistic, but it also very obviously strives to be more than the masturbation manual it could get away with being for most of its audience. That's a tradition for the better pinkus, but one wouldn't expect this tradition to hold in a film this extremely designed for the sensibilities of the most clichéd otaku.

Of course, the film was directed by Naoyuki Tomomatsu and scripted by his usual writer Chisato Ogawara (a woman, interestingly), the people who also brought us Zombie Self-Defense Force and Stacy - Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies, so the merely normal is quite out of the question. Instead, Tomomatsu spends most of the film's running time taking up the ideological position of a certain part of sex doll loving otaku-dom, which declares its love (and they mean love in the spiritual sense, too) for submissive objects to be kind-hearted and pure. I'd even be willing to buy that argument, if the film wouldn't then go on and blame the android lovers' love for objects all on human women, who, it argues, all only want pretty, abusive guys. It's at this point where the misogyny enters. The film first presents the its argument in its only truly violent scene where a doll lover we seem to be supposed to identify with kicks the shit out of some women who mocked him on TV.

Hopefully, I don't have to explain why that part of the film bugs me. It doesn't help that the film's argument becomes rather muddled the longer it is going on, until it might also be possible that the misogyny is meant as an ironic way to criticize otaku misogyny through the back door. If that's the case, it doesn't really work out that way and looks very much look the film's creative team wanting to have it both ways.

On the other hand, I can't help but admire this little softcore porn film for trying to think through some of the moral and intellectual questions its premise brings up, like you'd expect any proper piece of SF to do, just with more pretend sex. And how many contemporary SF films (with sex or without) want you to think about them, or take any kind of philosophical stance at all?

Maid-Droid's world-building is also pretty good. Future Japan here functions quite like you'd expect a land with artificially intelligent robots who are mostly used for sex and emotional comfort to work, with backlashes against the androids on one hand, insane sex-bot modders on the other, and a guy who has uploaded his consciousness into an intensely creepy doll on the mutant third.

There's a merry sense of insanity dominating the second half of the film, beginning with a hilarious sex bot test-drive scene and ending with the true identity of the rapist robot. It (and his glorious red-glowing, rotating penis) made itself from the part of discarded robot-dogs, you see, still trying to please its predominantly female owners. Yes, again with the misogyny here, but also insanely fitting the tone and style of the film and quite funny in its way.

As if that wasn't enough, the conclusion of the old man's part of the story takes on such a strange fairy-tale mood that I really don't know what to make of it. The turn from SF into wish fulfilling fantasy is unexpected, and I'm not sure how much sense it truly makes in context with the rest of the movie.

Maid-Droid is the sort of film only a select few will like. You need to stomach its problematic ideology, go with the muddledness of its ideas, overlook some ropy acting (especially Anri "Maid-Droid" Suzuki's - there's a reason why she isn't moving or talking for much of the film), and just accept the insanity and weirdness of it all. But I think that's a perfectly good place to be in for a film.

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