Monday, 31 August 2015

Tokyo Tribe

Title:  Tokyo Tribe
Director: Sion Sono
Released: 2014
Starring: Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais, Seino Nana, Ryuta Sato, Shoko Nakagawa, Yosuke Kubozuka, Riki Takeuchi, Takuya Ishida, Shunsuke Daito, Yui Ichikawa, Shoto Sometani, Denden, Hideo Nakano, Bernard Ackah, Hitomi Katayama, Kokone Sasaki, Mao Mita, Yoshihiro Takayama

Plot: In an alternate vision of Tokyo, the city has been divided up by street gangs collectively known as the Tokyo Tribes who co-exist in an uneasy state of peace, one which is soon shattered by crime boss Big Buppa (Takeuchi)

Review:  While many of the original outlandish and controversial directors such as Takashi Miike have mellowed with age its kind of comforting to see that there are directors like Sion Sono who is still carving his path as a truly original voice in Asian cinema. Having previously given us suicide cults, killer hair extensions and the hooters version of a fish shop to barely scratch the surface of some of the randomness that his films to date have covered.  I guess that he would attempt a hip-hop musical version of “The Warriors” which I guess might be the best way of describing the randomness he gives us here.  

Based on the Manga series by Santa Inoue, this adaptation is shot with a combination of hip-hop excess and hyper-kinetic cinematography, its once again another unique world view that Sono gives us here, right from the opening rap which introduces this world as a grandma works the decks. It’s also in this scene that we get our first introduction to the varied gangs of this version of Tokyo with Buppa’s son Mera (Ryohei) tracing out the territories on the naked flesh of a naïve female cop who attempted to arrest him as he rakes his knife from her breast to her butt.

Unquestionably its once again a colorful group of characters that we get here, while the sheer number of players however does mean that only the most outlandish of these characters prove to be memorable as many slip into the background unless actively doing something to further the plot at that particular moment. However whenever Takeuchi is on the screen all attention is drawn straight to him, as his crime boss Buppa seems to have been inspired by every crime boss from Tony “Scarface” Montana through to Durant from  “Darkman” as seen by his cigar box of severed fingers. Here Takeuchi somehow manages to crank up his usual snarling style several more notches than his usual craziness as he commands the screen every time he’s on, whether he’s groping his amply breasted wife or jerking off with a black dildo he’s a fantastically cartoonish creation and one which Takeuchi seems to be having a ball playing.  While Buppa might have made for a suitable big baddie on his own, much of the heavy lifting required to maintain his empire is handled by equally psychotic sons the aforementioned bleached blonde Mera while his other son languishes in “A Clockwork Orange” inspired room of living furniture.

While the film might be a hip-hop musical in Japanese, a language whose suitability for the musical style is debatable, especially going off the frequently droning tone that most of the raps take here which is more worrying when you consider the amount of actual rappers amongst the cast. That being said even if you’re not a hip-hop fan it never overwhelms the film to point where it is unenjoyable for the non-fans.  That being said around the halfway point Sono seemingly loses faith in the concept and instead opts to turn the film into an all-out kung-fu spectacle as the rapping is changed out for stylised ass kicking.

Action wise if you were impressed by what he brought to the screen previously in “Why Don’t You Play In Hell” here he cranks up the energy even further to create some great set pieces including a showdown in a room which hides a giant fan which is put to great use thinning out most of the cast, while we also get a sadly too brief Bruce Lee homage and a character being turned into a human pin cushion via a dozen samurai swords to the chest. True none of these scenes are aiming for realism, as instead Sono aims to only add to his ongoing spectacle but when shot with such a sense of chaotic fun as it is here, such things hardly matter.

Perhaps due to the sheer amount of characters and muddled plotting it wasn’t until I watched this film for the second time that I was able to appreciate it, having been left with a sense of indifference after my initial viewing. Perhaps more flawed than some of his other films, this is still a highly unique film from a director who continues to prove himself as an original and exciting force in Asian cinema, making it little surprise that critics / Asian cinema fans continue to draw comparisons between him and Takashi Miike even if perhaps Sono is barely pushing the boundaries of taste in the same way that Miike did during his outlaw years. In the meantime though this is another great entry into an already impressive body of work, even if perhaps it fails to reach the same levels of some of his more recent films, this is still an experience worth having.

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