Originally published at Viator.
Few things in this world bring greater chaotic joy than Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant Evening Cabaret Show. The billing says it all. There are robots, samurais, dinosaurs and a giant panda riding a cow. How could you not be intrigued?
By chance, I had caught glimpses of the show before in a Tokyo episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” Even then I was drawn to the cacophony of lights and organized insanity. I vowed to look up the show if I ever found myself traveling to Tokyo.
I arrived at the Robot Restaurant — set in the Kabukicho red-light district — 30 minutes prior to showtime for drinks and music in a room that looked like the Pee-wee’s Playhouse set designer took a hit of LSD. All colors of the rainbow flashed along the reflective floor, golden-colored furniture and video screens lining the walls. I was entranced and wondered what could possibly be in store.
As showtime neared, we funneled down a series of stairs to a long, narrow room. Three rows of seats lined the main stage in the middle, with drinks and snacks available for purchase. My friend and I opted for a bit of sake as it seemed like an event requiring a bit of alcohol to be properly enjoyed. A friend, I can say in retrospect, is also a necessity — you’ll need someone you can check in with every now and again as the madness ensues.
The show was split into thirds, with an opening drum number warming up the crowd. I felt like I was in a Donkey Kong video game as the flashy dancers hammered away at their respective drums, shouting along with the music. Stagehands, dressed in black so as to hide themselves from the audience as best as possible, moved the stages with impressive precision throughout the restaurant, oftentimes requiring patrons in the front row to duck to avoid taking a prop to the face.
I think I can speak for the audience I shared this experience with when I say the highlight was the second segment of the show (after a short break allowed everyone to refuel with drinks and snacks). As the show resumed, a video played along the walls behind the audience on both sides of the stage. A voice described in English a peaceful forest invaded by an evil robot empire.
It’s important to remember that the show knows it’s campy and purposefully plays it up.
With that, the evil robot emperor entered the stage.
“This forest is so peaceful,” he growled. “I wanna trash it!”
The audience burst into laughter and was hooked for the remainder of the show, cell phones out to capture photographic and video evidence that this event did indeed happen. Words alone would not suffice.
Without spoiling too much of the fun, the emperor’s threat was followed by an unbelievable series of side-by-side battles. I kept thinking, “There’s no way they’ll top that!” as machine after machine battled a variety of animals for control over … what exactly? Really, it’s not about the plot and nobody pretended it was.
I feel like I shouldn’t give any more away, both because any traveler to Tokyo should absolutely experience it for themselves and also because it’s nearly impossible to describe. There may be a temptation to hold your nose up at the idea of participating in such profound tourist-driven silliness, but give in. Be silly. Go and enjoy it for what it is — 90 minutes of pure visual ecstasy. I’ve traveled far and long and have never seen anything like it.