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Robotics professor Hiroshi Ishiguro may believe he’s helping humanity by developing artificial life-forms so advanced you could soon find yourself closer to them than your neighbor or family dog. But in Phie Ambo’s Mechanical Love, all he seems to be doing is seriously freaking out his daughter. Ishiguro first traumatized the young girl when he made a “geminoid”—basically, a replicant—of her and introduced them. Result: tears. But he goes further, creating a serial-killer-looking ’bot in his own image and shutting the poor kid alone in a room with it, as his piped-in voice insists through weird rubbery lips that the thing is her father and they’re “talking normally.” Verdict: She fidgets, is adamant that this is not normal at all, and won’t go near the Big Wonder. More successful is Paro, a fur-covered, baby-size robot seal that squeals and bats its eyelashes at a German nursing-home resident who’s reluctant to go anywhere without it. Despite its fascinating subject—can people really bond with machines?—and 79-minute run time, the film is often as lifeless as a geminoid’s eyes. There are too many lingering (and creepy) shots of the robots, a repetitive debate among nursing-home staffers about the sometimes-disruptive Paro, and way too much self-serious, not-always-coherent philosophizing about the nature of being from Ishiguro, who isn’t exactly charming. Still, the technology is jaw-dropping, and when Paro’s elderly owner holds him and coos, “You’re the greatest joy that I ever had,” it’s a nice moment. —TO