Still from Sayonara (2015). Image Source: Telegraph.
Geminoid F, a fembot built by Hiroshi Ishiguro at the University of Osaka's Intelligent Robotics Laboratory in 2010, has made headlines again as she stars in the first film to feature an android in a main role. Sayonara premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival on 24 October 2015. To reinforce her marketed product placement in that film, Geminoid F also reappeared at the World Robot Exhibition in Beijing, China on 24 November 2015, and took the convention by storm. Her appearances in October and November convey a double message about technology, one dystopic, the other utopian.
Video Source: Daily Mail.
On 24 October 2015, chief international film critic for Variety, Peter Debruge, dumped scorn on the film and any threat the android might pose to human actors:
Debruge misunderstood the point behind the first movie with a starring android. He insisted that the machine's friendship with helpless mortals underwhelmed him; and he puzzled over why the beautiful, nostalgically-lit, poisoned environment around the characters overwhelmed him. Other critics of this film have similarly focused on how robotic technology is crossing the Uncanny Valley in cinema, more often through CGI, but made no comment on the film's anti-nuclear message.Relying too heavily on the hook that it co-stars an actual android, this dreary study of human-robot relations offers little to engage apart from its pretty scenery.Don’t say “Sayonara” to human actors just yet. A provocative experiment in whether androids could share the stage with people — for which Japanese playwright Oriza Hirata partnered with Osaka U. robotics guru Hiroshi Ishiguro, inventing a two-hander to be performed between a flesh-and-blood thesp and a stunningly lifelike machine — loses much of its interest on the bigscreen, where actors have been co-starring opposite robots of one form or another for decades. Whereas the stageplay attracted those curious to witness firsthand what android acting entails, on film, the effect dissipates moments after audiences set eyes on Ishiguro’s uncannily realistic Geminoid F, revealing instead the myriad dramatic shortcomings that will limit “Sayonara’s” welcome abroad, following its local-pride premiere at the Tokyo Film Festival.The trouble with translating Hirata’s Android Theater Project to the screen stems from the fact that the short-form play wasn’t an especially compelling piece of material to begin with. While not exactly post-apocalyptic, the glacially sensitive chamber drama takes place after a nuclear meltdown, centering on the bond between a terminally ill woman afflicted with radiation poisoning and the slightly outdated companion droid who shares her home. The action, such as it is, consists of this longtime duo reciting poetry back and forth between themselves, staring at one other from across a dimly lit living room and going for “strolls” through the nearby wheat and bamboo patches.With its lovely golden-hued lensing and minimal score (impactful when the string-and-piano quintet does appear), the film encourages meditation, but doesn’t provide much basis from which to work. Long’s character, Tanya, passes long hours lounging on her couch. Other characters, including a boyfriend (Hirofumi Arai) with whom she robotically makes love and a woman mourning the loss of her child, occasionally venture out to visit. Each is assigned a lottery number and awaits his or her turn to leave the country, though Tanya expresses no real urgency, feeling more comfortable passing the days — then months, then however long it takes a human body to decompose — with her robot Leona. The process demands equal patience from the audience, who may also feel as if they’re spending the film slowly waiting for their own lives to expire, comforted (or not) by poems by the likes of Shuntaro Tanikawa, Arthur Rimbaud and Carl Busse, each presented in its native language. ...Simultaneously retro and modern, organic and technical, abstract and tangible, “Sayonara” ultimately amounts to a intriguing series of contradictions that may actually prove of greater interest to androids of the futures than it does to contempo human audiences.
Critics' fixation on the android's role in the film neglects the film's message about nuclear radiation's ruination of Japan and her society. The reason the environment dominates the film is because it is the true main actor. This secret, hidden in plain sight, portrays a potential reality so horrible and so destabilizing that the international community refuses to acknowledge it. That is, it is possible that since the Fukushima disaster of 2011, large parts of Japan should be considered uninhabitable. The country may have become a real wasteland, not a poetic one. Pro-nuclear commentators deny that Fukushima has anything to do with Pacific contamination, fish die-offs, Florida fruit with Fukushima cesium in it, or plutonium fallout research. Plutonium is portrayed by the nuclear industry and anti-carbon lobby as a green alternative, "a sort of thermodynamic elixir." Yet the possibility that Japan's wasteland is real is evident in this year's headlines, with examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. The information on Fukushima's impact on the local and global environment is complicated for citizens to understand, difficult to gauge, and inconsistently measured. The disaster betrays a real gap between what we think we can do, technologically speaking, and what we actually can do: in 2015, The Times reported that 200 years will pass before we have technology capable of cleaning up Fukushima's mess. In the meantime, one is left to trust one's preferred media sources on whether there is no risk, low risk, or high risk. But in placing that trust, it is worth remembering if the risk was and is indeed high, then - unlike the scenario in the post-apocalyptic film - large scale evacuation of Japan was never an option in international relations. The unsettling, wooden, listless passivity of Sayonara's characters portrays a real untruth about nuclear high technology, with another high tech messenger, an android, perched at its centre.
Still from Sayonara (2015). Image Source: Daily Mail.
Sayonara (2015) trailer. Video Source: Youtube.
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