Wednesday, March 02, 2011

NYICFF ’11: Time of Eve

As usual, Isaac Asimov got it right. In the future, robots follow his three laws. However, there are still a lot of grey areas for androids, including the very nature of their existence. Two high school students grapple with the notion of human-android relations in Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Time of Eve (trailer here), a surprisingly smart science fiction anime feature adapted from his webseries, which screens during the 2011 New York International Children's Film Festival.

It is “the future, probably Japan.” “Android-holic” is a mean derogatory term usually applied to those who say “please” and “thank you” to the household robots. They look human and are programmed not just to learn, but to apply new knowledge. Some would be dashed difficult to tell apart from humans if it were not for the rotating rings hovering above their heads. However, there are a number of underground mixer clubs, like The Time of Eve, where humans and androids sans rings meet on equal footing.

When Rikuo Sakisaka and his classmate Masakazu Masaki stumble into the plucky Nagi’s titular cafe, they are not sure what to make of the place or her clientele. Indeed, their human vs. android assumptions often turn out to be wrong. The coffee is good though. For whatever reason, they keep coming back. However, the quasi-governmental “Ethics Committee” led by Masaki’s father is out to shutdown such establishments.

While the use of androids (or aliens) as a proxy for other more traditional forms of prejudice is a long established sci-fi convention, Eve tackles the question of what constitutes humanity in intriguing ways. Wisely, it never comes close to resolving the big picture question of how human an android can legitimately become. In fact, though it concludes with a temporary sense of closure, more Eve is clearly projected, with the (presumably) first installment only hinting at the shape of the shadowy meta-conspiracy.

Driven by story and ideas, Eve is an impressive foray into social science fiction. Though it is anime, the very same script could be adapted as a live action feature with relatively few special effects required. That is a good thing. Still, Eve’s animation is a cut above the anime industry standard, nicely expressing the do-they-or-don’t-they nuance of the androids’ emotional uncertainty.

Though it has nothing objectionable for younger viewers, Eve’s speculative nature and psychological complexity is clearly intended for smart kids and sophisticated fanboys. Cleverly written and executed, it definitely leaves viewers wanting more. Recommended beyond the traditional anime audience, Eve screens as part of the soon to open NYICFF next Saturday (3/12) at Symphony Space and the following Saturday (3/19) at the Asia Society, with tickets still available for the latter date.