The Robot Restaurant. The most amazingly ridiculous place in the world. Not sure why they call it a restaurant. Because Ive bene twice and haven’t heard of or seen anyone eating there. What is IS though is an over the top, intense, phantasmagorical assault on your senses, your being, your take on Tokyo, and overall, an assault on any semblance of good taste. Imagine the costumes and colors of Carnivale, the odd view of the future shown in comic books of the 50s, the floats of the Rose Parade, and the gaudiness and commercialism of Vegas all rolled into one. Now add in pounding music, blinding lights, about 100 costumed performers, and a never ending cavalcade of “Robots” all crammed into a subterranean lair, and you’re beginning to get the picture.
I guess the first thing to understand is that there aren’t really any Robots at all, per se. Which is what a to of the reviews seem to focus on. But there are a seemingly endless array of moderately animatronic sculptures, some piloted by on board humans, and some being remotely shepherded by assumedly Japanese assumed fellers in ninja costumes manning remote controls looking apparati.
But before we get down into the basement, let’s start with the entrance. The whole operation takes top both sides of a narrow Shuijuku alley. But before you even get there you can’t miss the hundreds of signs around the neighborhood that advertise this theatrical bonanza.
Once you arrive you have to navigate the ticketing hall to make your booking, and then go diagonally across the alley and stop in front of a couple of amazon sculptures upon whose laps you can lay in for a pic or two. Then you can shepherd up a few flights of stars into the “Lounge” Last time I was there the homie Rich jones commented that it appeared to have been furnished in the style of a Turkish bodega. Im. Not sure that they even have bodegas in Turkey. Or that Jones has ever been there. I certainly haven’t, as of yet. But I still knew exactly what he meant. It was literally the tackiest collection of over the top furniture and lights you could imagine. Every color of the rainbow, plus a bunch that have never been seen with human eyes, all blended under about 13,000 brighter than they need to be light bulbs. At the far end of this long room was a stage that had a woman playing piano and a backing band dressed as robots. There was also a bar, because nobody should try to negotiate thins place sober.
It really says something when me in a skin tight leopard suit is the least interesting thing in a room. But it happened here.
Next apartment I move into I might have to sire someone from this wonderland as my decorator. Or just got to Canal Plastics and Canal Street Lighting in NYC and tell them I want 420 of EVERYTHING in their warehouses.
After spending god knows how many thousands of Yen on drinks, it was time to make the pilgrimage downstairs. A couple hundred of us made a single file line and descended through a seemingly never ending maze of staircases, with each level getting freaking that the last. Gold, silver, lamé, strobes, LED’s, neon, and freakier and friskier pics were passing by in a whirlwind… Was that a Japanese schoolgirl dominatrix riding a dolphin?!?! Why yes it was, and it looks like I’ve also found my next tattoo.
Down I to the main showroom we went. It was a long rectangular room with a set of or 3 tiered bleachers running down each long side. There were “tables” at each seat, ostensibly to hold the food people might order, but what it really did was to give plenty of room for drinks, in addition to the TWO cup-holders that were included with each seat. Burp.
After a quick round of selling us all MORE drinks from carts they wheeled out onto the performance space, they announced that it was time for the show.
And what a show it was. That doesn’t even do it justice. Spectacle started to cover it. GOD DAMN MONSTROSITY OF AWESOMENESS comes even closer. From the opening bell, it was a non stop cavalcade of kookiness coming through the curtains. The only thing that kept this thing from being non-stop was the fact that they stopped the show three times in the middle to sell us more drinks and let us in to the bathroom. Or at least that’s the convention wisdom. And certainly makes capitalistic sense.
But Im betting more it’s because they knew that if they gave us 60 straight minutes of their “show” that our collective heads would have melted, and then congealed, melted again and EXPLODED. It is literally impossible to overstate how weird this whole thing is. The first time I experienced it I likened it to an acid-trip. The second time, more like DMT.
Almost every contraption is topped by a human, or multiple humans, in incredulous costumes made from feathers and leather and spandex and foam and future minded fashionry. Every one wilder than what came before, and none of them anything close to pedestrian. This made a Tragedy show feel like solo acoustic subway busker in the middle of a transit strike.
There was also some sort of a “story” they tried to introduce. Something about people from the future trying to enslave humans, and then take the earth from them. Which somehow ended with a woman being eaten by and then carted off in the mouth of a T-Rex. And then some explosions. But then back to the REAL SHNOW, which was the parade of absurdity.
It’s well documented that Tokyo is a city squeezed for space, where everyone lives tiny capsule sized lives inside of literal capsule sized spaces. But that only begs the question of WHERE do all these Robots come from. There is seemingly no end to the number of the devices. thee must be a multi story garage behind the scenes, plus a mammoth worksop to maintain them all. But come they did, as the finale was just a loop of one after another after another after another until we were all, quite literally, breathless.
Once it was all said it done. We took a few moments to catch our breath, headed back upstairs to the “Turkish Bodgea” to grab a few more drinks, and then led a crowd a revelers to Shinjuku’s “Piss Alley” and byzantine labyrinth of tiny bars… That report will be filed tomorrow.
But if there’s one thing you should take away about the Robot Restaurant, it’s that if you go to Tokyo and don’t make it an absolute must visit on your travel, then Im not sure that you are I are gonna be friends.
Rodney would have gone. And he never would have shut up about it. Be more like Rodney.