It's an interesting film from a director I like, but it has two big problems. (These don't include the fact that it's a sleazy SF pink film about human-machine love, starring hardcore porn stars.) Firstly, Anri Suzuki can't act. Secondly, it's built on disturbing sexual politics.
Let's talk about the good stuff first. It's set in a world where men and women can buy robots. Unsurprisingly, these infinitely obliging servants often get put to indecent use. We follow almost the whole life of our hero, Ueno, who acquired a T-207 Maid-Droid (Maria) when he was a child and still has it sixty years later. In the present, he's about seventy years old. In the flashbacks, he could be any age. His relationship with Maria is actually quite touching, since he genuinely loves her and has stayed with her all this time, even though now her battery's depleted and she can't move. (Buying a new battery for a sixty-year-old robot would cost the equivalent of a million pounds.) They've never even been able to have sex, because the T-207 was a prototype and incompatible with the standard commercially available Sex Technology Option. (The blowjob scene is romantic, though.)
Maria doesn't really understand Ueno's feelings. At one point she advises him to buy a newer Maid-Droid model, install a Sex Technology Option and swap across the memory boards from her old body. It would be the same! Ueno disagrees. She also advises him at one point to find a human wife, but unfortunately Ueno finds someone who turns out to be a bitch who treats Maria like a robot.
However there's also a B-plot about a Rape Machine. Yes, that's right. It's a robot dog and it's roaming the streets at night. Anri Suzuki plays Yuri, the detective in charge of stopping it. Extraordinarily this ends up being tender and romantic, in an interleaved double ending that's both uplifting and gently tragic. The B-story works! I hadn't been expecting that, but it does. That's not something you'd expect from a Rape Machine.
The tone is fascinating. The film's by turns cerebral, sleazy, polemical, romantic and elegaic. It's bittersweet. All that heartwarming Ueno-Maria relationship stuff is set in the past, while in the present they're an old man and a dud robot. After their naughty bathroom flashback scene together, the film cuts straight to seventy-year-old Ueno chastely washing the body of his immobile robot. The nudity is similar, but the emotional effect is completely different.
1. ANRI SUZUKI
She kills scenes. She can't read dialogue and she barely even convinces as a human being. That's nothing to do with being a porn star, since Akiho Yoshizawa is fine as Maria. I don't even see anything particularly difficult about Suzuki's role, despite those complicated, weird layers under the surface that a proper actress could have gone nuts exploring. She's a police investigator. She wants to catch a baddie. Suzuki can't even convey that.
2. THE SEXUAL POLITICS
This is messed up.
I've been trying to decide whether this film is honestly and openly espousing the loser otaku cause, or whether it's doing it with critical self-awareness. My conclusion is that I think it's doing both. It's a vehement statement of some frankly disturbing opinions, but it's also undercutting the character who's voicing them and pointing out both his violence and his sexual inadequacy. (He admits to having a small penis, which ends up getting it crushed and/or electrocuted while he's having test sex with a Maid Droid in a store.)
The film's premise is that a romantic relationship with machines is normal, healthy and okay. This is validation for people like those real-life otaku who have marriage ceremonies with their "2D wives". They've renounced real women, comparing them unfavourably with fantasy girlfriends in anime. (If they were capable of getting a real girlfriend, of course, they'd be thinking differently.)
So far, so creepy. We're then told that all women are drawn to lying, cheating violent men. Nice guys don't stand a chance. 10% of men (i.e. the evil ones who beat you up) monopolise the world's women, leaving the remaining 90% of men to satisfy themselves with machinery. That's why Host Droids sold worse than Maid Droids. Asimov's Laws of Robotics would stop a dickbot from abusing his human mistress as she secretly wanted! (They eventually got taken off the market and replaced by Dog Droids, because women have specialised tastes.) In fairness screen time is also given to the counter-arguments, via a TV chat show where two women discuss the social implications of all this and are clearly straying into real-world commentary too. They really let rip at their male loser co-host. However this ends with him punching them to the ground, then kicking them repeatedly as he calls them "ugly" (because they're over thirty) and rants in defence of involuntary virgins.
This scene could be read as either criticising the man's violence or as a rebuttal of all that hostile criticism (possibly even with the implied message that the women deserved that kicking). Personally, I think it's a bit of both.
Oh, and the film also thinks that the Rape Machine's victims enjoyed it. Here's a quote: "Besides giving women orgasms, it shouldn't be causing any real harm. It's using its proprietary sensor to find horny women and arbitrarily service them." In other words, this film thinks "horny women" will have an orgasm from being raped in a back alley by a machine.
It's horrendous... and yet, even after all that offensive content, the film's double finale works. It has emotional weight, both from Ueno-Maria and from Suzuki. The latter's scene is amazing on multiple levels. The film's Pinocchio metaphor also comes to impossible fruition, which is both magical and arguably sort of undercutting the message (a bit as happens at the end of Beauty and the Beast).
This film ends up somewhere lovely with Ueno and Maria. The former's age undercuts the sexual angle and makes it more of an end-of-life relationship. It's like a care home. Underneath that, though, the film's also scary. It's perpetrating myths so ugly that they go beyond "wrong" into "a society where anyone believes this is messed up". It's also presenting machine-human romance as the purest kind of love and validating the, uh, alternative romances of otaku in the audience who really shouldn't be getting patted on the back for being socially dysfunctional.
I'll be watching the sequel, obviously.