This Feature Film is Billing an Android as One of its Stars

By Bryan Lufkin on at

Most robots don’t have IMDb pages. Geminoid F isn’t most robots.

The creepily real-looking, dark-haired, female android is receiving star billing in Sayonara, a feature-length film that premieres in Japan next month.

It’s certainly not the first time a robot has appeared in a movie with a human. But not only does this ‘bot really look like a person, it is getting the same star treatment as one, too, being listed in the credits as a principal actor and appearing alongside co-stars at press conferences. Sayonara debuted at the Tokyo International Film Festival last week.

The movie is the film adaptation of a stage production, which the wheelchair-bound, Japanese-speaking android also starred in five years ago. It’s a story following post-nuclear doomsday in near-future Japan, and a sick young woman finds a maternal, comforting friend in an android companion.

So, you’re probably thinking — is the android any good? Well, The Hollywood Reporter described Geminoid F’s acting as “constrained” and “less than effusive”. But she’s also “unfailingly polite in a very Japanese way,” and “reads immortal poetry with feeling and aesthetic sensibility,” critic Deborah Young writes.

“In some ways, this is a new form of puppet theatre,” said human star Bryerly Long at a Tokyo International Film Festival press conference last week, “as her android co-star sat quietly to one side,” Varietyreports. Long and the android appeared together in the stage version, as well.

We should take note that the robot is technically impressive. While humans have been appearing alongside robots on the silver screen for years, this one looks human herself. Geminoid-F was created by renowned robot designer Hiroshi Ishiguro, who also served as Sayonara’s “android advisor”. He’s an Osaka University engineering professor known for his incredibly lifelike androids and their detailed facial movements, and has even created an android version of himself.

So, will robotic actors take over Hollywood? Nah. For robots to really take off in any given field, they either need to (a) be able to take over tasks most humans simply do not want to do, and (b) do that thing better than humans can do it. Acting is not one of those things.

For now, anyways. Like we reported earlier with this pint-sized robot that talks to you when he senses a dip in conversation while driving, Japan’s robotics industry really focuses on emotional recognition, with the helpful, cheery Pepper robot as a great example. So maybe one day, a robot could actually respond believably with real feeling on screen, responding to and delivering lines with more nuance and breadth. For now, it still seems sort of stuck in the Uncanny Valley.

Sayonara debuts November 21 in Japan, and overseas releases haven’t been announced. Watch the trailer (in Japanese) here.

[Variety and The Hollywood Reporter]

Top image via Tokyo International Film Festival