When you think about robots in a sci-fi movie, you are probably imagining the giant automaton that is hell bent on destroying the planet. Occasionally we get a comedic gem with a robot that acts completely out of character, like Marvin the depressed android. But in the Japanese drama 1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife, the robots are much less homicidal and significantly more philosophical.
The story revolves around a man named Sakutaro (played by Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) who decides to write a short story every day for his wife. It might seem like the sort of thing one does at the beginning of a relationship, but for Saku it is a final gesture of love at the end. His wife Setsuko (played by Yuuko Tekuchi) is dying of cancer, and her doctor says that she won’t make it past a year. Saku hears that laughing will build antibodies that can fight disease; his thinking is that the stories will help her laugh and thereby save her life.
Each of the stories focuses on an alien living amongst mankind, a robot that gives advice to children, robots who are afraid of newer models coming to destroy them, and other sci-fi themed encounters. It bends the idea that sci-fi is all about fighting the decline of civilization or the damage that technology can bring upon us when we aren’t ready for it. It shows us that sci-fi can take two people with every reason to despise life on an adventure that actually makes an unfinished life feel round and complete.
The stories are portrayed in the film through Saku’s narration and usually involve Setsuko interacting with the aliens and robots in fairly humorous situations. They contrast the scenes in which Setsuko struggles to complete mundane chores made difficult by her painful treatments. You watch Saku go startling over the edge trying to create a new story every day for nearly five years to keep his wife alive. And for the bulk of the film, you think that the stories won’t work. Next, you know they won’t. And finally, you hope that Saku can stop.
The film has a unique approach to how the story is told; it almost teases you as you watch. The line between what is really happening and what is just in one of Saku’s stories blurs until it becomes difficult knowing what is real. And that is what makes this film so brilliant. The effects of the writing process combined with a complete lack of sleep bring the world of science fiction into reality for both Saku and the viewer. As he writes the final story, one only for his wife to see, it becomes clear that this is a film about love as much as about robots and aliens. The final scene of the movie solidifies the idea that a mind powerful enough to reverse the effects of cancer for five years is strong enough to break the boundaries of the natural world that would otherwise keep him from his love.
The acting is surprisingly emotional from a country known for its stoic withdrawal. By the end of the movie, you get a real sense of loss coupled with an equally satisfying understanding of love. Kusanagi delivers a cleverly understated performance for much of the film that contrasts his final scenes to craft a moving portrayal of what love and loss can do to even the calmest of people.
The special effects of the film greatly hamper its potential for acceptance among American audiences. The reality of it is that many film students will look to this and think, “I could do this between class breaks on my little brother’s computer… while drunk.” And they’d probably be right, but quirky effects fall second to heartfelt storytelling. This movie may never be well accepted in American crowds unless, like the Ring, the Grudge, and Dance With Me, a Hollywood version of it gets put into production. Until then, this is still a great film to show just how deep and sensitive we sci-fi geeks can really be.
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