Wandering Alien Detective Robin
さすらいのエイリアン 私立探偵ロビン「Sasurai no eirian shiritsu tantei Robin」
Release Date: June 16th, 2012
Duration: 20 mins.
Director: Lisa Takeba
Writer: Lisa Takeba (Script),
Starring: Masanori Mimoto, Takuro Kodama, Lisa Geran, Kinuo Yamada, Arata Yamanaka, Takashi Nishina, Yaeko Kiyose, Yuya Ishikawa, Marc Walkow,
Lisa Takeba is a multi-hyphenate talent who gleefully blends genres, utilises melodrama and has the sort of imaginative hands-on DIY special effects that can charm an audience enough to paper over how slight or loopy her stories are. This can best be appreciated in her feature films The Pinkie (2014) and Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory (2015), both of which are zany romances with a science fiction spin. Her earliest available work, the short film Wandering Alien Detective Robin (2012), is a good indicator of what she is capable of.
Wandering Alien Detective Robin had its genesis in Takeba’s fondness for the song “Englishman in New York,” by Sting. As Takeba explains in a director’s statement the song’s sense of “loneliness and romanticism of being an immigrant” makes her “heart become hard-boiled”. In order to realise these emotions and make real the sensation of a hard-boiled heart, Takeba utilises various traits from different genres and she takes the song’s chorus literally to gives us a “legal alien” for the lead character.
The story focusses on Robin, an extra-terrestrial who works as a private detective in a city that sort of approximates a cross between New York and Urawa. One day he receives a request to track down a murderer from the police. As he investigates he realises that the criminal is an alien who comes from the same planet as him and faces similar issues integrating with earthlings. While it turns out that this is hardly a complicated mystery, it allows the filmmakers to indulge their imaginations in bringing Sting’s most famous song to life.
Making two of the main characters actual aliens is a very blunt but effective way for Takeba to create a story about lonely immigrants and she isn’t subtle about their appearance as she has her lead actors don large rubbery sci-fi masks to make themselves visibly different. This difference gives the human characters a reason to exhibit their prejudices against aliens which emerge during Robin’s manhunt as he faces discrimination from witnesses and cops and also discovers that the criminal faced similar negative experiences which led to his crime, a poignant tragedy that Robin can understand. In effect, all of this “othering” effectively helps underscore a shared sense of loneliness between the detective and the criminal and leads to a twist in the story of the two characters which involves both spaceships and making peace with femme fatales.
The film’s cinematography and production design are pure film noir as Robin dons his fedora, three-piece suit and trilby and downs Jim Beam by the tumbler-full in between narrating his tale like a true hard-boiled detective. The monochrome look and melancholy jazz score underline the noir atmosphere although Takeba shows she has her tongue firmly planted in cheek by having characters carry rotary phones and use them like mobiles and while Robin is aiming for the look of Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944), Takeba chooses to have him be an alien to emphasise his immigrant/outsider status.
Overall, the short film is a good demonstration of Lisa Takeba’s strengths and weaknesses. While the story doesn’t have so much to it with regards to the mystery, it’s take on loneliness and its enjoyable mish-mash of atmospherics and genres creates a unique take on Sting’s song and shows Takeba is an imaginative film maker.