on 24 September 2009
SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I'm more than a bit curious how "Cyborg She" was marketed in Japan. The festival plugged it as the new film by Kwak Jaw-young, and of a piece with his with his other whimsical romantic comedies with a touch of the fantastic. Which it is, and although it never loses sight of being romance first and sci-fi second, it makes sure not to short-change anybody.
22 November, 2008: As the film starts, Jiro Kitamura (Keisuke Koide) is buying himself a birthday present. A college student in Tokyo, he's got no family or close friends (his home village was destroyed in an earthquake, and the new town that has been built on its remains isn't home), and celebrates his birthday the same way every year. Except last year - that year, a beautiful girl (Haruka Ayase) showed up in a bodysuit out of sci-fi anime, shoplifted herself a new outfit, and sat herself down at Jiro's table, leading him on an adventure before announcing she was from the future and disappearing. This year, she shows up again, in even more dramatic fashion, taking superhuman action when a crazed gunman shows up in the restaurant. Afterward, she explains that Jiro created her sixty years in the future and sent her back in time to prevent his crippling. She's a blank slate now, but maybe living with him will help her develop a soul.
The trick to this movie is to get us to see Haruka Ayase's character as more than a mere machine, or else what's meant to be a romantic comedy can get creepy and pathetic, very quickly. The opening flashback (or, given the time-traveling nature of the film, flash-forward) helps; strongly implying that the cyborg will develop into something more. Ayase handles her end very well, too; she's got a fine deadpan expression as the girl in her brand-new, more robotic mode, but does a nice job of developing a personality as the film goes on. She's never a simple doll taking the orders of her perverted master.
Keisuke Koide's Jiro never becomes terribly pervy, either. He's a bit of a sad-sack from the beginning, but never really seems like a complete loser; he's reasonably smart but also amusingly confused as he gets caught up in something too big to properly handle. He gets flustered well, and sells the stories that give his character depth just fine.
Kwak has a lot of fun with his sci-fi concepts, and his more conventional bits. There's a professor who likes to throw chalk at inattentive students, and plenty of bits involving the girl's superhuman abilities that get a chuckle. The opening, in particular, is funny, and he cribs absolutely shamelessly from the Terminator movies when re-introducing Ayase's character (although, in a move that will likely disappoint fans of the model/actress the world over, not to the point where she must travel through time naked).
And then the endings hit. When the first big climax happens, well, you can't say the film hadn't given you any warning that the scale might change; Kwak had dropped some foreshadowing as plain as day and it's your own fault if you weren't listening. Then there's an epilogue. And then the movie keeps going, and at the time, I started to wonder just how many ways they planned to end this thing. I'm still not sure that all the time-travel bits really fit together - like the Terminator movies, you sort of have to allow that sometimes things fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, and sometimes things change. But I decided I liked it anyway: Even if there is one thing that I can't figure as being coincidence, paradox, or destiny, it certainly winds up leading to the ending that the movie should have (and which, yes, was foreshadowed early on).
That winds up making "Cyborg She" something pretty special - a romantic comedy on a grand scale, with an ending that should satisfy both the fans of romance and robot action in the audience. efimcritc