The high concept of this Japanese science fiction film from director-writer Jae-young Kwak might be The Terminator meets Amelie, but it is also an effects-heavy take on Kwak’s Korean quirky romantic hit My Sassy Girl. Jiro (Keisuke Koide), a slightly alienated student without a family, always spends his birthdays in the same restaurant; the seemingly-odd opening, which eventually makes perfect sense, has him at the restaurant in 2008 remembering the year before when he was accosted by a kooky super-cute girl (Haruka Ayase) who showed up in a skintight anime babe suit, stole clothes from a mall, led him on a merry dance, ate a huge meal then dragged him out on a chase without paying the bill, rushed him through the stage of an opera (in costume) and took him to throw stones through his own window while lamenting the cruelty of her former boyfriend who supposedly lives there and confessing to being from the future before vanishing. Then, flashback over, the cyborg girl appears in downtown Tokyo in a Terminator-look time travel effect, and heads to the restaurant, shoving Jiro’s face in a cake to save him from a mad gunman. The cyborg, a more determined version of the girl from the first encounter, reveals she has been sent back in time by Jiro’s future self, her creator, to save him from being crippled in the restaurant shooting. She kills and serves up his pet iguana as dinner as if she had no concept of human feeling, but also moonlights doing superheroic rescues (altering unhappy news stories her creator remembered) and takes Jiro on a brief time trip back to his village childhood with a loved grandmother (actually, his mother) he didn’t appreciate enough, but hints darkly that a disaster is to come which she must still protect him from.
The film has well-managed broad comedy – the cyborg gets drunk and malfunctions, takes her mission to protect Jiro so far as to save him from chalk flung by a bullying teacher and replaying lessons he slept through, or responds to an invitation from Jiro’s envious best friend to dance ‘the robot’ with weird mechanical contortions – but also has a thread of melancholy as Jiro doesn’t know what to make of the inhuman machine, and ends up treating her as she had prophesied on her first visit, which we perceive must be from a later point in her life. Ordered to stay out of his sight, the cyborg does so – only to emerge as a self-sacrificing hero when an earthquake levels the city, tearing herself in half to save Jiro, who then devotes decades to rebuilding her. Multiple epilogues go on in almost as complex a manner as AI, but to more pointed effect: after Jiro’s death at a ripe old age, his deactivated robot is bought at auction by a rich girl who looks exactly it. She samples its memory chip then goes back in time so we see the first encounter with Jiro from her point of view, as she flirts with the man she has fallen for through the memories of a robot incapable of emotion but aware they have little time together. Kwak is canny enough to leave a major connection unmade – that, in the original timeline in which Jiro is crippled (revoked and never shown), the cyborg was built in the image of the girl its inventor knew for only a day – and sappy enough to revise history one more time to bring the optimal versions of the lovers together satisfyingly with a chance for a happy life. Koide is a reactive, underplayed hero, but needs to accommodate Ayase’s outgoing, complicated performance (playing two physically identical but different characters who nevertheless feed into each other). It’s grown-up enough to undermine the geek’s Weird Science-ish fantasy of having a super-sexy robot girlfriend by having the cyborg firmly resist all advances (her hair is sharp as monofilament) – though, again, Jiro is understandably misled as to how reactive the machine is by his encounter with the real girl.