Hinokio: Inter Galactic Love (2005) is a tale of a sixth grader who was paralyzed and lost his mother in a car accident. Too depressed to leave his room, he’s given a telepresence robot through which he attends classes (incidentally, this has started happening in the real world). His classmates decide to nickname the robot (and therefore Satoru) Hinokio, because the robot reminds them of Pinocchio and it’s partly made from the wood of the hinoki cypress.
Visually, Hinokio’s design is one of the best I’ve seen on film (created primarily by Igarashi Design), and the special effects are pretty well done. It’s mostly computer-generated animation mixed with a practical model for close-ups. Ultimately the film isn’t about Satoru’s robot, but his relationship with his distant father and the friends he makes at school.
There are fairly realistic scenes of what daily life would be like with the robot, and what kind of trouble it might get into, but it does take liberties for the sake of the plot. For example, at the end of the day, rather than just disconnecting and leaving the robot safely at school, Satoshi actually walks home as Hinokio. And rather than speaking through the robot, he types messages through a speech synthesizer.
However the attention to detail is still pretty remarkable; the robot’s control center is a large hemispherical display similar to the one created by fuRo called HULL that controls the Halluc-II, mixed with a BMI. And while the robot can do a few things which are physically improbable, at least it’s not magically given super-human artificial intelligence. At times the film switches to a first-person view to show us what Satoru sees through the robot’s cameras, or into his computer games. He plays a secret massively-multiplayer online game called Purgatory, where he looks for his mother.
It’s cute, and is definitely meant for a younger audience, but the plot isn’t too patronizing. It deals with real life issues faced by kids, like first crushes and single parents. It takes the time necessary to develop the friendship between Satoru and his schoolmate. His father, who works overtime at the robotics company that built Hinokio, struggles with how to connect with his son. It even touches on addiction to online computer games, and the use of robots like Hinokio in the military.
However, at an hour and fifty minutes, Hinokio could benefit from a few more cuts. It is a bit let down at the end, with some cheesy spiritual stuff which is drawn out for far too long (and ends rather predictably), but overall it’s not a bad flick. Here’s a few choice shots showing the robot:
The robotics lab
Hinokio without its face covering
The hemispherical display
The BMI head connections
Hinokio’s “umbilical” power cord
Augmented Reality with key assignments
Hinokios being used for war
Hinokio as Terminator?
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