Review: CYBORG SHE
Author: Ed Godziszewski
Official Movie Site: cyborg.gaga.ne.jp (Japan)
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details and images from a new movie.
Every now and then, a movie comes along and takes you by surprise. Sometimes it flies under the radar and you never hear of it, sometimes it looks unremarkable and you pay it no mind, or perhaps you just think ‘you gotta be kidding, I’m not going to bother.’ In the case of CYBORG SHE (Boku no Kanojo wa Saibogu), the 2008 romantic sci-fi comedy film from Korean director Kwak Jae-Young (MY SASSY GIRL), it was a little bit of all of these. Towards the end of a long flight back from Japan, I turned to the in-flight entertainment system to pass the time. I saw a listing for this film, in Japanese with English subtitles. I’d never heard of it, the title sounded odd, the two sentence summary didn’t sound very promising. Japanese comedies are very much hit and miss for me, but boredom got the better of me and I decided to take a chance.
CYBORG SHE starts out innocuously enough with the main character, a lonely young guy named Jiro Kitamura reminiscing on his 21st birthday about a strange adventure he had exactly one year before—an attractive girl unexpectedly sits down at his table for one and joins him for dinner. She eats an enormous amount of food, then tells him to wait outside while she pays the bill. As he patiently stands outside, the girl suddenly whizzes past him, and he realizes that she… and therefore he… has skipped out on paying. Jiro and his mystery admirer spend the rest of the evening getting into trouble in Yokohama Chinatown. It’s so out of character for Jiro, but he has a great time.
Somehow, the girl leads him straight to his apartment, and while standing outside, suddenly her mood changes and she becomes quite upset at him, talking in a way that makes no sense. Recovering her composure, the girl announces that she must leave, saying she came from the future and must now return. Jiro goes home, having experienced the most memorable evening of his life.
But a year passes and Jiro is perhaps even lonelier than before. He returns to the same restaurant on his birthday, and much to his surprise, his dream girl reappears, although this time she is acting nothing like the impulsive, carefree soul from the previous year. Suddenly, a man at the bar draws an automatic weapon and opens fire on the restaurant patrons. The girl springs into action, moving at superhuman speed, disarming the man and hurling him out the window. Jiro takes the girl back to his apartment, and there a strange thing happens… the girl’s eyes flash brightly, and a holographic image of a badly crippled man appears before Jiro, speaking to him.
The image is that of Jiro himself from the distant future, who has created a cyborg in the likeness of his dream girl and sent it back in time to save him from that terrible attack which left him in this terrible condition. The cyborg will remain with him in this new timeline, and should be able to learn how to act like an ordinary human.
What follows is a series of largely predictable comic scenes as the cyborg girl tries to learn how to fit into 21st century society and the nerdy Jiro awkwardly tries to come to terms with his unusual roommate. Inevitably he starts to fall in love with the cyborg, but she seems incapable of returning any emotion. And just as predictably, Jiro tries to provoke jealousy in his companion, with disastrous results. In the midst of a catastrophic earthquake, the cyborg makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Jiro, leaving him utterly devastated. But fate is not always cruel… while his cyborg companion is indeed gone forever, Jiro still manages to find happiness (via a plot twist you’ll have to see for yourself).
This unlikely combination of THE TERMINATOR and SOMEWHERE IN TIME manages to overcome the odds and succeed mainly on the strength of the lead actors, Haruka Ayasa as the beautiful and quirky cyborg girl, and Keisuke Koide as Jiro. Both are instantly likeable, and you can’t help but build some sympathy for Jiro, first as victim of a terrible random act of violence, and then in the new timeline, as an affable loser whose love seems doomed never to be returned in kind. The script gives the duo a number of fun little vignettes, none of which are remarkable in themselves, but they all build nicely on each other to draw the viewer in. And to give the audience further reason to pull for our heroes, several times the cyborg girl acts to avert a major tragedy, saving a small boy from being killed by a truck, thwarting a knife-wielding crazy during a rampage at a high school, and so on… events which had broken the heart of the scarred Jiro of the future, causing him to instruct the cyborg to prevent them from happening.
Time travel stories almost inevitable fail or succeed on whether the story plays fair with the concept of time travel. That is the major failing of a film like GODZILLA VS KING GHIDORAH, which is loaded with contrivance and contradiction. What ultimately makes CYBORG SHE work (for me at least) is the post-earthquake sequence which ultimately explains all the odd and seemingly unexplainable events at the film’s beginning. Everything comes full circle, so you can buy the film’s climax. But of course, time travel in itself tends to create some things which just can’t be explained. In SOMEWHERE IN TIME, it was the watch that Richard Collier received from the old lady, begging him to come back in time to see her. She has the watch only because he gave it to her when he traveled back in time, so it becomes a conundrum… where did the watch actually come from? You should be able to spot a similar conundrum in this film, but it is more a curiosity than a liability to the story.
While CYBORG SHE is hardly a perfect film, it is basically a fun romantic comedy with SF overtones and a couple of great sfx sequences (including an earthquake that puts Shinji Higuchi’s SINKING OF JAPAN to shame), and a dash of the sentimental. Take a chance on CYBORG SHE and you’ll be rewarded with an enjoyable 2 hours.
Japanese audiences took to the film, which spent five weeks in the top 10 at the box office and later sold more than 110,000 units on DVD. While not yet released in the US, CYBORG SHE is currently available on DVD with English subtitles from the Hong Kong label Intercontinental Video Ltd. (Region 3) and the UK distributor 4Digital Media (Region 2 PAL).
For more information, videos, and images from CYBORG SHE, please see the previous coverage here on SciFi Japan: