Katsuhiro Otomo is a master storyteller, and a pioneer in Japanese animation. He specializes in tales of technology gone rogue, and while I felt that Akira was too short, and that Roujin Z was too long, this little number, The Order to Stop Construction, is just right.
The title can be translated in many ways, but I like “The Order to Stop Construction” best. It has a heavy, authoritative rhythm. If you say it out loud, it even sounds like a machine.
The short is about a corporate salaryman, Sugioka Tsutomu, who’s sent to cancel the construction of a factory in a third-world country. The nation’s new dictator has broken the contract with Tsutomu’s company, and the project needs to be shut down. Upon arrival, Tsutomu quickly realizes that the automated construction systems are no longer responding to human command, and that he has become a prisoner.
The animation, while far smoother and more detailed than that of most Japanese cartoons, is mostly serious, efficient, and utilitarian. It’s not Warner Bros. or Spumco, in other words.
But those designs!
But those color schemes!
But that ROBOT!
#1, the helmeted, humanoid robot who interacts with Tsutomu, is the true star of the show. Like most cartoon robots, it is ferociously single-minded in the pursuit of its directives. It speaks in a traditional mechanical monotone, but with extreme Japanese politeness. Its lights flutter and its body judders as though it’s inches from breakdown, but Tsutomu soon discovers that it is quite formidable when threatened.
Trapped, and forced to watch the pointless motions of the site’s crumbling machinery, Tsutomu soon approaches breakdown himself, and the story closes with mind-warping ambiguity. I’m a huge fan of stories like these, where the robots decide they know what’s best for their human masters, and where the humans themselves start to behave like the drones they created. With terrific writing and amazing direction, this is one of my top cartoons of all-time.