Former pop-idol Kazunari Ninomiya plays an immature man who finds new purpose in life in this children’s science-fiction comedy. Ken (Ninomiya) spends his time playing video games instead of doing chores, frustrating his wife Emi (Hikari Mitsushima). When a robot appears behind his house, Ken believes he might be able to impress Emi by trading the robot by trading it for a more functional model. The robot, also voiced by Ninomiya, has no memory of where it is from and little apparent value, however Ken soon discovers that the robot may be highly sought after. He travels to meet robotic expert Rin (Nao Honda) and Tang is stolen by two shady individuals leading him to try to recover the robot and return it to the professor who built it.
“Tang and Me” is a children’s fantasy adventure based on the book “A Robot in the Garden” by Deborah Install. The story centers on the relationship between Ken and Tang with the slapstick comedy arising from Tang’s childlike naivete about the world pitched firmly at younger viewers. While the plot offers few surprises, Ninomiya does a good job as the hapless Ken, creating a believable relationship with Tang as the two embark on a road trip leading to him maturing as he learns to empathise with the robot. Hikari Mitsushima plays Ken’s long-suffering wife Emi, with a great supporting cast of comic and dramatic actors. The electro-pop and cheerful score provide a light aural accompaniement to the bright, colourful visuals. The future of “Tang and Me” is a utopia of clean streets, drone delivery, gaudy lightshows, and little in the way of threat. The surprisingly violent military application of robotics and Artificial Intelligence is necessitated by the plot, but the film is at pains to point out that this is done at the behest of foreign investors.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are increasinly becoming an important part of human society. “Tang and Me” shows a world coddled by technology, with the humans facing few problems or dangers. They live in a state of childlike innocence about the world outside. Tang’s appearance forces Ken to face up to his responsibilities and learn compassion for others rather than continuing in his selfish ways. The film also has a strong message about the misuse of technology by humans, showing a scene in which fear causes the robot to brutally massacre both humans and machines, suggesting that the real danger is not the technology but the people who are programming it. Alongside the story of Tang as a surrogate child for Ken, this gives the film a little more depth and makes it an enjoyable all-ages science fiction fable.