Daniel Robson dines with our new metal masters
The men in heavy-looking android outfits make one final lunge at one another with their outsize metal swords before making their exit. Then, to the sound of pumped-up disco music, a fleet of gigantic wheeled Amazon women with remote-controlled robotic heaving cleavage drive in, towering 12 feet high, each draped with three real-life women in silver scanties, like Dr Evil’s Fembots. But instead of killing us with bullets from their bras, they invite us to climb aboard their rides and pose for photos.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Robot Restaurant. Leave your sanity at the door.
Opened in July 2012 and located in the Kabukicho red-light district of Shinjuku in Tokyo, the Robot Restaurant is not a restaurant, and there aren’t any robots. Yes, they serve you a bento of cold food that’s supposed to be hot as you take your seat on a row lining the long basement venue; and yes, men and women dressed as retro-futuristic robots form part of the attraction. But make no mistake, this is a cabaret, a show, a performance – and it’s one of the strangest you’ll ever see.
Spectacle is everything at the Robot Restaurant, which cost a whopping 10 billion yen (£63 million) to create. The sensory overload begins before you even step inside, with every wall, floor and surface of the ground-floor waiting room, ticket desk and stairs down to the main venue lined with glimmering glass jewels, like wallpaper made from coloured mirrorballs rolled flat. The toilets are wall-to-wall gold. It’s a hideous clash of bad taste that dazzles you till you’re charmed.
The theatre space is no less gaudy. The long walls of the oblong room are gigantic video screens, alive with continuous imagery related to the show. Futuristic dancers, Edo Period drumming girls, macho-man robots, disco-bots with Segways for legs, space-age tanks and bikes and planes roam the venue – each covered with a million flashing LEDs. Oh, and there’s a man in a wobbly T-rex costume and a remote-controlled armadillo. Obviously.
The performance unfolds in the strip down the middle of the venue, with the audience seated on either side. At 5,000 yen (£31.50) for a one-hour show (including the bento), it’s a bit steep. It’s also unarguably sexist – at one point in the show the women hang from a ceiling-mounted conveyor belt and rotate around the room, their legs outstretched, just inches above the audience’s gaping faces.
And then there are those 12-foot-tall Amazon women, nightmare-sized matronly mechs with flowing hair and a cockpit with joystick controls for driving as well as moving their arms and pumping their rubberised breasts, clearly the creation of someone with a very specific and disturbing set of fetishes. The classic scene at the end of Aliens with Ripley in her Power Loader would have gone down very differently if she’d had one of these.
Then again, the Robot Restaurant isn’t particularly sleazy, just… mental. Half its customers seem to be women, and there’s much worse in Kabukicho, a den of knocking shops and hostess clubs that provided the inspiration for Kamurocho in Sega’s Yakuza game series. It’s a cabaret, sure, but it’s not a strip show.
In fact, the experience is too insane to be sexy. It’s a non-stop barrage of light and sound, jousting and dancing, drumming and cheesy grins. Lady Gaga could move in. Muse and Amiaya shot videos there. It’s the sort of experience the rest of the world expects from Tokyo but which is actually far too rare. And if you’re visiting Japan, you have to go. Just don’t expect to be served delicious food by R2-D2, because these aren’t the droids you were looking for.