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Friday, Oct. 5, 2012
Futuristic bot cabaret wows Tokyo
By YOSHINO MATSUI
Paris may have the Moulin Rouge, but Tokyo now boasts its own distinctively futuristic cabaret experience: the Robot Restaurant, replete with giant robots operated by scantily clad women amid a dazzling profusion of lights.
"Foreign customers who come here all say the same thing — it's crazy!" Dai Tokutake, the manager, said with a grin.
Despite its name, the establishment, which opened in the Kabukicho entertainment district in July, is not a restaurant at all. Rather, it is an adult-oriented club where customers pay ¥4,000 to catch an hour-long show, and though they are served a small boxed dinner and green tea in plastic bottles, the meal is considerably less spectacular than what goes on around them.
The show is based around the theme of "josen," a term coined by the club's owner that roughly translates as "women and war," and it features dozens of seminaked dancers handling an assortment of props, including gigantic robots, models of tanks —and a replica of a B-52 bomber.
Other sets performed on the stage, which looks like a fashion show catwalk, include "taiko" drumming, Chinese dragon dances, Western-style marching bands and wild dancing as Lady Gaga songs blare.
The highlight of the show, however, is when the dancers climb aboard and start operating 3.6-meter-tall robots, whose upper bodies are fashioned after a long-haired — and ample-bosomed — woman, but which walk on robotic legs straight out of sci-fi "anime."
The club fills all the other positions with male employees. Waiters sporting black bow ties and cafe-style aprons help customers to find their seats, and also distribute iPads so visitors can watch educational videos about the Robot Restaurant during intermissions. Others clad in traditional kabuki stagehand uniforms, their faces masked by a black cloth, cart around the large props used onstage.
Before the segment featuring the walking robots begins, the waiters politely ask each customer to move their chair back a little to make way for the huge machines, as the 10-meter-long, 3-meter-wide catwalk is sandwiched between 30 customer seats on each side.
"Robots will soon pass before you. It can be quite dangerous, so please take a step back," the waiters politely inform customers in a manner reminiscent of train station announcements warning passengers of an imminent arrival.
The club built 15 robots with the assistance of the company that developed the Land Walker robot technology. "But we created their upper body features," Tokutake said proudly, adding the most expensive versions cost around ¥30 million each.
In the show, two girls sit in tandem on the robot's front seat. The girl in the back operates its arms and legs, while the girl in the front operates the robot's facial expression and breast movements.
Although customers are strictly prohibited from standing up or touching the dancers, the club allows some latitude for them to "interact" with the women. It hands visitors penlights to wave and cheer the dancers, while the women exchange high fives with every customer at the end of each show before they depart the stage.
According to Tokutake, women account for about 40 percent of the club's clientele, as well as most of its repeat customers.
"I think female customers like our show because it includes things they once dreamed of but could never achieve in real life — dancing onstage under the spotlight, like a model," the insightful Tokutake explained.
But the identity of the club's owner, whom Tokutake credited as the sole brainchild behind the bizarre entertainment experience, is cloaked in mystery.
All Tokutake would say is that the owner, who just turned 60 and never meets the press, is a legendary figure in Kabukicho nicknamed "the king of adult entertainment."
The proprietor apparently started his career in the entertainment business as a host at a club serving a female clientele but is now an extremely wealthy businessman who runs a number of bars and adult entertainment clubs in the area.
"The Robot Restaurant in Kabukicho, the world's No. 1 night entertainment district, is his crowning achievement — his magnum opus," Tokutake said.