For this Short Movie Time, we want to introduce our readers to Kenjo McCurtain, who is currently putting the final touches on his first feature film, Make Believers (2021). The first short film we will review of McCurtain is his award-winning sci-fi short Automation.
One day, Sato Hiro (Yasuhiro Ito), a single man and salaryman, unpacks the comfort robot (Shuna Iijima) he bought to keep him company. While the robot, at first, injects some convenience into his lonely existence, he soon feels imprisoned by the structure the robot provides.
Automation is a narrative that explores the limitations of robotics to resolve the loneliness human subjects feel in contemporary society feel. It does so not only by showing us why the robot-human relation fails, but also be evoking that human subjects, in choosing a robotic partner, fail to recognize what they really desire.
So, why does the relation between Hiro and CRM 2.0 fail? Because, she is, despite looking like someone made from flesh and bones, ultimately not a human being. Why? One could underline the lack of intonation in the robot’s voice, but, while this betrays her robotic origin, this element is not the main reason why the mirage of her humanity fails. In essence, what renders her non-human is her lack of a desire of her own and the fact that she can only respond to demands. The relation between Hiro and CRM 2.0 is a strict master/maid relation – Hiro needs to animate her with his demand and, in the case that he does not vocalize a demand, the robot will attempt to elicit one.
In other words, CRM 2.0 can, due to her limitations and strict dependence on demand, never realize that something lies beyond the demands of Hiro as subject, which is his desire to be loved and desired. The robot fails because she is unable to respond to the desire that lingers in the demands and because she can only operate within the field of articulated demands – for her, only demand exist. The sequence where Sato Hiro gives his robot flowers illustrates both elements in a crystal-clear manner.
The composition of Automation stands out due to its simplicity – offering a balanced mix between finely composed static shots and dynamic shots – and its rhythmicality. Kenji McCurtain succeeds, by using visual repetition is in a fluid and dynamic composition, to evoke how the robot, by solely operating in the field of demands, creates a suffocating rhythm – an automated rhythm devoid of any true variation.
While Kenjo McCurtain expertly uses cinematographically movement to compose the highlight of the film – his poetic sequence of visual repetition, we also feel that he, in some rare instances, adds cinematographical movement where there is, in fact, no need for it – the desire for cinematographical variety should never take precedence over shot-composition as such.
Automation is a great short narrative by Kenjo McCurtain that does not only shows, in a visually pleasing way, that the human subject in search for an antidote to his loneliness in robots misrecognize their real desire, but also that the robot, imprisoned in a field of demands, can never provide an answer to the desire that animates the subject. This narrative, in short, proves that Kenjo McCurtain shows promise as director and as writer.