Tokyo’s robot cabaret astounds — and baffles
IN A restaurant down an alley in one of Tokyo’s best-known red light districts, four gigantic "female" robots wink and wave as they lumber to the beat of traditional Japanese drums and a Lady Gaga dance tune.
It’s show time at the Robot Restaurant, a new and hi-tech take on the city’s decades-old cabaret scene that puts a friendly, if unusual, face on the robot technology in which Japan is a world leader.
More than half the world’s industrial robots are used here, and Japan hopes to replace 3.5-million workers with robots by 2025 because of its low birth rate and ageing workforce.
But the featured performers at this brand-new venue, which owners say cost ¥10bn ($125.8m) and took three years to build, are 3.6-metre-high, custom-made female-looking robots — with facial features — controlled by the club’s women dancers.
The lower half of each robot resembles the iconic Japanese character Gundam on wheels, while its curvaceous human-like upper body is clad in a futuristic gladiator outfit.
They have blonde, brown or red hair with blue or green eyes.
Each is controlled by two bikini-clad women, who perch in a high seat attached to the robot’s stomach, and control the facial features and legs using joysticks attached to the seats for the hour-long "Fighting Females" performance.
"The concept behind this restaurant is fighting, feisty females, and the robots are part of that theme," said the club’s spokesman, who goes only by his last name, Watanabe.
"Everything apart from the central component of the robots is made and assembled by us."
Robots have long fascinated the Japanese.
In Japan, robots have always been seen as friendly and helpful — in contrast to the West, where they are more often seen as cold or sinister.
One of Japan’s best-loved cartoon series, Astro Boy, about a robotic boy who fights injustice and crime, was written by Osamu Tezuka, who is often referred to as Japan’s Walt Disney. The comic was created and produced in Tezuka’s studio not far from where the robot restaurant stands today.
The robot show and the glitzy club hark back to the days of Japan’s bubble economy, the boom of the mid-to late-1980s, when flashy clubs sprang up in Tokyo to cater to the newly rich.
After a short intermission, in which visitors enjoy a drink and a bento boxed meal that come with the ¥4,000 ($51) admission fee, the women reappear in military-themed costumes.
They charge onto the stage manoeuvring the robot-vehicles, which move up and down among the crowd.
By the end of the hour-long spectacle, the dancers are aboard a miniature aircraft that zips overhead as American rock music blares over the speakers.
One last dance routine involving fairy costumes and light sabres, and the audience is ushered out of the theatre.
"I saw a blog about this and tweeted it to my friends and dragged them along to the show," said one Tokyo man, who watched the show with two women friends.
"I honestly don’t know what I expected out of it, but it’s something I knew I would never see anywhere else."
But others who had attended the show appeared somewhat baffled.
"I’m not sure what I just saw in there," several members of the audience said as they headed towards the nearest railway station.
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