Yoko Higuchi presents another impressive project with his latest short film, “SYNTHETIC LOVE.” Along with directing, Higuchi co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Evans. The film was shot at Oguchi Dam in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan. In her acting debut, Myuri, a well-known model and dancer, stars alongside Takumi Matsumoto, who may be recognized by some viewers from Takashi Murakami’s “Jellyfish Eyes.” “SYNTHETIC LOVE” premiered at One Art Space in New York, along with Yoko’s previous short film, “EVERYDAYMAN: A Fantasy Tokusatsu Parody.”
On a day filled with rain, Motoko, a female robot, stands atop a dam and looks out at the river below as she waits for her boyfriend, Shinji, to arrive. When he finally does, he presents her with a gift to commemorate their three-month anniversary. However, to his disappointment, Motoko reveals that she is ending their relationship because their time together has come to an end. Despite his efforts to persuade her to stay, she remains resolute in her decision. With each plea, she offers logical explanations and counterarguments for why they should part ways.
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At first glance, this seems like a sad story about a breakup between two people who are not compatible. However, upon closer examination and considering the science fiction elements, the short film’s underlying message becomes even darker and more compelling. The film “SYNTHETIC LOVE” serves as a warning to viewers about the consequences of society’s increasing reliance on technology. The content depicted in the film is not too far from reality, as Japan is known for its social issues and declining birth rates, which are exacerbated by the growing trend of people turning to robotic companions. While advancements in technology have brought great benefits, depending too heavily on it can also lead to negative effects. Additionally, individuals who struggle with mental instability can worsen these issues. Lack of support for those facing social challenges can also create a whole new set of problems. Through the characters’ sharp dialogue, the film effectively portrays the connection between human behavior and the application of science.
The two actors in the short film deliver strong performances in their respective roles. Myuri plays the role of Motoko, a robotic love interest, with a detached persona that highlights her programmed nature. However, her character also has a comforting demeanor which reveals a self-aware side as she longs for her male counterpart to snap out of his delusions. Takumi Matsumoto’s portrayal of Shinji, a socially awkward young man, feels genuine as he initially denies his fixation on the automated object of his affection but eventually comes to terms with the uncomfortable truth. It’s unsettling to consider how the robotic companion is more connected to reality than her human counterpart.
The visual presentation of “SYNTHETIC LOVE” is stunning, featuring a melancholic yet opulent color scheme and breathtaking cinematography by Yoko Higuchi and Chester Law, paying tribute to filmmaker Hideaki Anno’s style. The atmosphere is both eerie and somber, with rain and fog creating a desolate mood that complements the deteriorating romance portrayed. The absence of a musical score only intensifies this feeling, as Higuchi incorporates natural outdoor sounds instead. Myuri’s voice also adds to the sound design, with a robotic effect adding to her ethereal vocalization and highlighting her artificial nature.
“SYNTHETIC LOVE” is terrific and showcases the creativity and emotional power that can be accomplished on a low budget. In just over ten minutes, Yoko Higuchi conceives a simplistic yet captivating story of a doomed romance with sci-fi elements that provide somber yet relevant social commentary on humanity’s growing excessive attachment to technology. In an age where, in Japan, there’s an eerily rise in romantic infatuation with machinery, this artistic short film exists as an outspoken reminder of the isolation that can come with continuous compulsive behavior with robotics.