B R I E F   S Y N O P S I S
Four wistful, wry and wrenching stories concerning humanity's quiet struggle to deal with a future computer world of infant automatons and literally robotic co-workers. Parents (James Saito, Tamlyn Tomita) raise a robot baby before adopting a human child; a mother (Wai Ching Ho) desperately attempts connection with her dying son by completing his toy robot collection; a worker android's (Greg Pak) "seamless" workplace inclusion involves interacting with malfunctioning humans; and an aged sculptor (Sab Shimono) desires natural death instead of an uploaded version of immortality.
  Why, Robot?
   
 

As I've traveled around the world with my first feature film Robot Stories, I've heard two words countless times: "Why robots?" Particularly in an emotionally honest, low budget, independent, Asian American feature film? Just what the heck is going on here?

I grew up reading Ray Bradbury, playing with robot toys, and watching The Twilight Zone. I loved robots because they were cool. But I also loved robots because the robot stories which blew my mind, from The Electric Grandmother to Blade Runner, always seemed to have an incredible, unexpected emotional power.

I think it's because when you take robots and artificial intelligence seriously, you end up asking questions which are utterly compelling to anything that thinks, learns, and feels: "Who am I?" "What am I doing here?" And, of course the old favorite, "What is this thing you humans call love?"

It's not always second nature for people to think of these kinds of emotionally compelling questions when they think of robots. After all, most robot stories, from Metropolis to The Matrix, are variations on the Frankenstein theme, original sin stories in which humans face destruction for pursuing forbidden knowledge and striving to usurp God as creator. There's not much exploration of the inner lives of robots in most of these stories; instead, robots are largely used symbolically to represent the consequences of human arrogance.

Now it may be that when robots become sentient, they will indeed immediately choose to destroy us and all other organic life-forms. But I'm inclined to believe otherwise.

Some current robot researchers theorize that in order to interact properly with emotionally volatile people, robots will need to be able to develop and learn from emotional experience of their own. And if you ask me, if a thing can think, learn, and feel, it will share the foibles, problems, and joys of all things that think, learn, and feel. In short, robots will become like us. And they’ll claim personhood. And we'll be hard pressed to rationally deny it to them. Call me crazy, but I predict that by 2204, robot civil rights will replace affirmative action and gay civil unions as the big political hot button issue.

What this all boils down to is that in Robot Stories, I treated all my characters, artificial or otherwise, as three dimensional human beings, subject to the same trials and travails we all suffer from.

But still, you ask, why robots? Why not just tell these emotionally compelling stories with human characters?

Try this on for size: There's another common way people think about robots. We imagine them to be free from human weaknesses, free from the burden of emotional confusion and responsibility. I've had more than one person tell me they wish they could turn off their emotion chip à la Data in Star Trek.

But we can't turn off our emotion chips. We're human beings, frail, organic, and destined to fail in countless big and small ways. Each of the four stories in Robot Stories deals with that kind of human frailty, with our struggles and failure to connect, and with the redemption of human understanding and forgiveness in the face of failure.

Casting robots among the principal characters helps emphasize these themes—if even robots are susceptible to these problems, then these problems must be inherent to us, as thinking, feeling creatures. Which makes it even more relevant that the film is cast multiculturally—look at us, people of all races, creeds, and molecular construction. All struggling to connect, to make sense of the world. Why robots? Because treating them seriously affirms the humanity of all of us.

And, of course, because robots are cool.

   

©2004 Landmark Theatres