Tag Archives: Splatterpunk

CAPSULE: THE MACHINE GIRL (2008)

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Kataude Mashin Gâru

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Minase Yashiro, , Honoka, Nobuhiro Nishihara,  Kentaro Shimazu

PLOT: Yakuza kill a schoolgirl’s brother and lop off her arm, but a friendly mechanic affixes a Gatling gun to her stump and she goes on a bloodbath of revenge.

Still from The Machine Girl (2008)

COMMENTS: The term “,” as used on this site, refers to a subgenre of Japanese horror movies, beginning with Meatball Machine in 2005, that were equally influenced by the mechanical body horror of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and the over-the-top comic violence of The Gore Gore Girls-era . Few movies could be more exemplary of this mix than ‘s junkyard bloodletter about a schoolgirl with a machine-gun arm hunting down the brutal ninja-yakuza gang that killed her brother.

The plot is vengeance-standard boilerplate; the movie really only cares about its gore set pieces (to an extent, it also cares about its action set pieces, but mainly because they set up big gory finishes). Iguchi is nothing if not creative in coming up with new ways to mutilate the human body: Machine Girl gives you finger sushi, a tempura arm, people halved from head to crotch, a pair of guys who swap half their faces, and for a finale, a sadistic yakuza matron who warns Machine Girl, “I’m wearing a special bra…”

Even in service of the absurd, the practical effects here are good to excellent; the blood spurts may be watery and improbably voluminous, but the prosthetic heads and other body parts can be surprisingly realistic. The computer aided effects, on the other hand, are deployed too casually: the use of green screen is sometimes obvious, some effects look pixelated, and the bullet flashes are overdone and silly-looking. There are also frequent blood spatters on the camera lens, which is a fourth-wall-breaking pet peeve of mine.

It’s noteworthy that most of the main characters—both heroes and the final boss—are females who drive the action and triumph over the males. (All those schoolgirl upskirt fetish shots take away from the feminist vibe a bit, though). The three main actresses all do well, considering the low bar. In her film debut, gravure idol Minase Yashiro shows decent athleticism that makes her a plausible action lead. Honoka, an actress with mostly adult credits, has wicked fun playing a bad girl who keeps her bra on for a change. Most impressive of all is Asami, previously known mostly for her pink films, who, when not kicking ninja ass, forgets that she’s in a trashy B-movie and gives her emotional all grieving for her slain son (who must be about eight years younger than her). The extra effort is appreciated. The one knock against the two heroines is that they enjoy torturing a captured thug way too much, surrendering their moral authority. (This may seem like a stupid complaint in a movie about a girl with a machine gun arm, but it’s still a narrative slip-up, since Machine Girl had previously been depicted as a righteous avenger).

The makeup and effects here were done by , who appears in the promotional material on almost equal billing with Iguchi. He would go on to surpass Iguchi as a director, and in fact has proven the most talented of all the directors associated with Japan’s splatterpunks.

This review is based on Tokyo Shock’s two-disc “The Machine Girl: Jacked! The Definitive Decade One Deluxe Edition.” The title makes it sound like an impressive release, until you realize it’s a DVD-on-demand1, and the sometimes fuzzy presentation is nothing like a remastered print. This edition also fails to include the spin-off short “Shyness Machine Girl,” which had been included in previous releases; its absence makes it hard to call this a truly “definitive” release. What the set does deliver are two behind-the-scenes featurettes, one running ten minutes and the other twenty (with some of the footage overlapping between the two); a twelve minute segment devoted to the effects; action scene rehearsals; an older group interview (in which Nishimura discusses his then yet-to-be-released Tokyo Gore Police); and several often amusing sets of footage from screenings and Q&As with cast and crew (including one where Iguchi and Nishimura introduce the film together wearing sumo loincloths). Altogether, the supplements run almost as long as the movie itself. The release also sports an English dubbed track. Altogether, it’s an heavily hyped package that promises more than it delivers—much like the movie itself.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The story is absolutely ridiculous, of course… There’s always some bit of extra craziness going on in the corners…”–Jay Seaver, Efilm Critic (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: DEADBALL (2011)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mari Hoshino

PLOT: A boy with a (literally) killer fastball grows up to become a vigilante, is imprisoned, and is blackmailed into playing on the jailhouse baseball squad despite the fact that he has sworn never to use the fatal pitch again.

Still from Deadball (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: strikes out with this charmless screwball baseball-gore comedy.

COMMENTS: Deadball lost me at the first special effect. Dared to throw some real heat, preteen pitching prodigy Jubeh jumps into a green screen stratosphere and launches his best ball from a mile up. The fatal results are expressed by an extremely fake CGI fireball laid over the film, followed by an extremely weak and thin CGI blood splatter from the victim, followed by a closeup of a subpar latex mask with a distorted eyeball lolling off to one side and stage blood bubbling up through a puncture wound in the forehead. Sure, we know the movie is cheap, but there is a real laziness in this scene, a rushed “that’s good enough” feeling. I got the sense that Deadball doesn’t think too highly of its target audience, especially since the rest of the movie—with its incoherent plot and jokes about puke-eating and body cavity searches—seems to have been written by a team of particularly immature twelve-year-old boys during breaks on the playground. Everything about the movie is cheap. Locations are minimal; the prison set Jubeh gets remanded to after he turns into a vigilante looks like a modified warehouse, and the warden’s office looks like a garage (there’s even a car parked in it). Costumes are also threadbare, although when it comes to the opposing team, a squad of female delinquents uniformed in black leather bikinis and ripped fishnet stockings, there might not be so many complaints. Nazis play a role in the plot (what, the Japanese can’t plunder their own fascist history for villains?), so swastika armbands offer more cost-conscious wardrobe choices, while a prop portrait of a vaguely Asian Hitler that looks like it came from a Yokohoma thrift shop is an unintentionally amusing lowlight. As we’ve already discussed, the special effects are bottom-of-the-barrel, even for splatterpunk (which usually prides itself on its crimson-tinged money shots, if nothing else). The digital blood here is just way too voluminous, and way too cartoonish: a geyser of a nosebleed, in particular, is simultaneously nauseating and risible. By the time they trotted out the giant robot in the ninth inning, I just didn’t care about the outcome anymore. Deadball‘s lone asset is Tak Sakaguchi, who somehow manages to convincingly play a teenager even in his thirties. For whatever reason, his character is modeled on Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name,” right down to the Navajo duster who wears slung across his shoulders. There’s a running joke about how he always manages to have a cigarette ready that’s one of the few gags that actually works (the other notable example being an extremely silly moment when he punches his dominatrix warden through the phone). Sakaguchi manages to keep some kind of dignity in the film, and considering the script requires him to fighting a transvestite using a salt-shaker full of MSG as a weapon, that’s a testament to the actor’s inherent heroic charisma. Sushi Typhoon keeps grinding out these DVDs, and they’re showing no signs of stopping. Deadball may suffer at my keyboard because it is the latest in a long line of these gory assembly line B-imports, but I can honestly say that this movie, in particular, annoyed the hell out of me. Hell, I’d rather watch an A-Rod at bat than see Deadball again; they both cheat the audience, but at least Rodriguez is trying.

Deaball is a reworking of an earlier Yamaguchi film entitled Battlefield Baseball (2003), that also starred Sakaguchi. That one reportedly had an even lower budget than Deadball.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Filmed in the bloody style of Battle Royale and fueled by a rowdy cast of hilariously psychotic characters, the film is nothing but splatter-action that at times literally sizzles with shamelessly low budget yet playful visual effects.”–Maggie Lee, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

142. TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008)

Tôkyô Zankoku Keisatsu

“She is the only actress in the world who can look so beautiful just standing in the midst of a gushing spray of blood.”–Yoshihiro Nishimura on Eihi Shiina

“I wouldn’t say I liked being covered in blood… [but] I really love the surrealism and beauty of these scenes, while I’m getting covered in blood which is spurting out everywhere.”–Eihi Shiina

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Yukihide Benny, Itsuji Itao

PLOT: Mutant serial killers known as “Engineers,” who sprout spontaneous bioweapons when wounded, are terrorizing Tokyo. Ruka, a sword-wielding loner addicted to cutting herself, is the star officer of the privatized Tokyo Police Corporation and the best Engineer-hunter on the force. As she investigates the Key Man, the human monster who is creating the Engineers, Ruka finds that secrets buried in her past may influence the future direction of her police career…

Still from Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • Although he made short films as early as 1995, Yoshihiro Nishimura made a living early in his career supervising gory special effects and makeup for movies like Rubber’s Lover (1996), Suicide Club (2001), and Meatball Machine (2005).
  • Tokyo Gore Police was a huge success, and following right on the heels of 2008’s The Machine Girl (for which Nishimura did the effects), it helped popularize the modern Japanese movement.
  • The character of the Key Man had shown up in Nishimura’s 55-minute 1995 experimental film Anatomia Extinction.
  • Nishimura cites the paintings of as a key influence on his design style.
  • Tokyo Gore Police was co-produced by Nikkatsu, the studio infamous for firing auteur in the 1960s because his films were too weird.
  • Fellow Nikkatsu directors (Robogeisha) and (Meatball Machine) directed the television commercial parodies.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Though many people may be stuck on the genitalia-related mutations (penis cannon, crocodile maw vagina), I believe the quadruple amputee gimp dog lady (whose missing limbs can be fitted with blades or automatic weapons) is the movie’s most bizarre creation. Because her existence is casually revealed without comment or explanation, as a natural part of Tokyo Gore Police‘s unnatural world, in many ways it’s also the most perverse element.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Tokyo Gore Police earns its spot on the List as the apex of an entire genre of movies: the gory Japanese biohorror B-movie built around absurd violence and crazy mutant creatures. With its bordello of freaks, fountains of blood spurting from decapitated heads, and sick jokes at the expense of our fragile human anatomy, Tokyo Gore Police ticks off all the splatterpunk boxes; heck, it helped draw the boxes. Tokyo Gore Police found the top and easily vaulted over it, and try as they might no one has been able to raise the bad-taste bar—yet. As a bonus, this movie provides something you don’t see in its sillier imitators: a layer of nihilistic social satire and a nightmarish sense of urban despair.


American trailer for Tokyo Gore Police

COMMENTS: While  explored the plasticity of the human body in the West as early as 1983, transforming our very television Continue reading 142. TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008)

LIST CANDIDATE: MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD (2010)

DIRECTED BY: , Yoshihiro Nishimura,

FEATURING: Yumi Sugimoto, Suzuka Morita, Yuko Takayama,

PLOT: On her 16th birthday a bullied teenage girl discovers she’s really a half-breed mutant with

Still from Mutant Girls Squad (2010)

a claw for a hand; she joins up with others of her kind and must decide if she will help them destroy humanity and usher in an age of mutants.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: At least one of these new wave Japanese  movies will eventually make the List; it’s just a question of which one can raise its head (or more appropriately, spout its geyser of blood) above the mad crowd. This entry in the cycle has the advantage of being a collaboration between three of the top talents in the sleazy subgenre—Noboru (RoboGeisha) Iguchi, Yoshihiro (Tokyo Gore Police) Nishimura, and Tak (Yakuza Weapon) Sakaguchi—as well as being bat-guano insane in its own right.

COMMENTS: You’ll probably know whether you want to see Mutant Girls Squad or not on the basis of the still above. Three of Sushi Typhoon’s top directors each handle a thirty minute chapter of this thinly-plotted, tripped-out triptych, and each is intent on outdoing the other in outrageousness. It’s a testament to the anything-goes interchangeability of the mutant-bioweaponry genre that you probably wouldn’t realize three hands were in this pie without being told; each of the directors promiscuously mixes up styles within his own segment, from teeth-chattering action sequences to absurd organ-oriented comedy to a terrorist music video medley mixing “Ave Maria,” calypso dancing, and suicide bombings. This filmmaking procedure may result in a certain level of discontinuity (schoolgirl Rin discovers and activates her mutant claw in the first chapter, and then goes through the mutant awakening procedure all over again in the succeeding segment), but that’s not too much of an issue in a style that makes comic books look like hardcore realism by comparison. The loosely sketched storyline involving a war between humans and mutants is just a clothesline on which the filmmakers hang as many “WTF?” moments as they can. To wit, you get soldiers equipped with masks that fire bullets from their noses; a baker ironically carved up into a baguette; a mutant pop with deformed nipples and genitalia; a flashback to a decapitated head on a birthday cake; a final boss with two giant boobs on either side of his head that shoot acidic milk; and so on, and so on. All this craziness becomes so expected, in fact, that it’s the quieter touches that stand out: in context, it’s actually more bizarre that the mutant cheerleader girl wears a bright yellow sweater reading “I [heart] Texas” than that she can extrude a chainsaw from her rectum. Of course, if you’re familiar with these movies at all, you know they’re not intended for anyone squeamish around blood and guts. Squad lives up to its forebears with all the expected exploding heads, absurdly abundant fountains of blood jetting from decapitated necks, and other demonstrations of the infinitely malleable meatishness of our all-too-frail human forms. Mutant Girls Squad‘s only real ambition is to zip from one outlandish, grotesque image to the next, and to do so as fast as possible so its audience never has the slightest opportunity to get bored. It achieves that ambition, but the effect is like scarfing down a pile of candy on Halloween; it’s tasty while you’re guzzling it down, but you might feel a little sick and guilty when the feast’s over. You also might feel that you’ve been robbed of a proper nutritious meal.

Since Meatball Machine essentially founded the mutant splatterpunk genre in 2005, Japanese studios have been churning out these chaep, absurdly bloody vehicles at the rate of 3-4 videos per year. In 2010 Nikkatsu Studios (makers of yakuza potboilers and pink films, and the company that infamously fired for making movies that were too weird) spun off a sub-label called “Sushi Typhoon” to pump out these b-movies and market them to the lucrative Western market.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The insanity and inventiveness is absolutely over-the-top.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

LIST CANDIDATE: YAKUZA WEAPON (2011)

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Tak Sakaguchi, Shingo Tsurumi, Mei Kurokawa, Jun Murakami

PLOT: One-man army Shozo is called back from mercenary work in South America after the Still from Yazkua Weapon (2011)

death of his father, a powerful yakuza boss. He sets out to reclaim control of his gang, eventually joining an experimental government program that implants robotic weapons into his body.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Combining elements of splatterpunk, gangster intrigue, and science-fiction, Yakuza Weapon is too insane to not at least consider for the List. In some ways, it’s only weird in that peculiarly “Japanese” way of other action films of its ilk, but at times it moves into its own truly bizarre territory that seems without precedent.

COMMENTS: With the belief that if he’s not afraid of death nothing can kill him, Shozo is a seemingly immortal killer who gave up his yakuza family in favor of mercenary work in South America (or something). He returns after hearing of his father’s death and seeks to wrest control of his territory back from Kurawaki, a sleazy business executive planning to unite all the gangs under his control. After various crazy battles and the kidnapping of his fiancee Nayoko (a strong fighter herself), Shozo is finally bested by a rocket launcher and helicopter minigun. He is re-built as a weaponized cyborg by secret government agents, who use him to take down Kurawaki and his army of drugged-out henchmen. Eventually he has to fight his long-lost blood brother, Testu, who has some unique robotic firearms of his own.

Replete with gravity-defying fight scenes, intense bouts of yelling, a host of kooky characters, and plenty of unreal splatterpunk action, Yakuza Weapon is entertaining through and through, in large part because of its weirdness. Everyone is operating at high volume and high energy levels, especially co-director/co-writer/stuntperson/star Tak Sakaguchi, who literally broke his back for this movie during a particularly impressive one-take group fight scene. The low-budget and rushed shooting time are sometimes apparent (though the CGI for the yakuza weapon-bits looks pretty good), but the filmmakers’ stunt experience leads to an array of fantastic and often hilarious action scenes.

The story is stock stuff for this genre, with revenge and gang rivalries and robotic appendages and ridiculous drama not surprising anyone. But, the script is definitely strong, producing interesting characters and tight pacing that elevates Yakuza Weapon above many other competitively crazy splatterpunk-type films. There are some truly oddball characters—notably Kurawaki’s giggly brother and Shozo’s adorably clueless sidekicks—and a couple of completely unexpected moments. Nayoko throws a boat, Shozo collapses an entire building because he doesn’t want to walk up stairs, and Tetsu battles using the weaponized (and naked) corpse of his dead sister while he’s hyped up on some neon blue wonder-drug. That last part is definitely the weirdest thing in the entire movie.

Whether or not it turns out to be Certifiably weird, this film is a helluva lot of fun, and definitely memorable. The filmmakers’ obvious enthusiasm for the project shines through, making the audience smile widely as grown men shout nonsense and digitally-added blood splatters against the walls. It’s a beautiful thing.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is a film that constantly ignores Kurawaki’s injunction to ‘face reality’ (a principle that Kurawaki himself hardly upholds), instead preferring devil-may-care irrationality – and if its ambition far outpaces its budget, that only makes it resemble its hero, who is funny precisely for being dumb, hyperviolent, and far too big for his boots.”–Anton Bitel, Eye For Film (contemporaneous)

READER RECOMMENDATION: ROBOGEISHA (2009)

Reader review by “Cletus.”

DIRECTOR:

FEATURING: , Aya Kiguchi

PLOT: Two sisters compete with each other for dominance in a secret society of geisha assassins, which is led by the evil head of a steel manufacturing corporation.

Still from RoboGeisha (2009)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Let’s start with the purposefully terrible dialogue. Move on to Tangu twins wearing phallic masks and matching bras. Maybe the absolutely ridiculous weapon placements including armpit swords, breast lasers, and stomach bombs.  The guy with the stomach bomb has cocktail shrimp stuck in his eyes by the way.  Oh yes: all this and much, much more.

COMMENTS:  This movie must have been at least as fun to make as it is to watch.  The first couple times I saw it I was alternating between jaw-dropping awe and side-splitting laughter.  The insane and chaotic visual effects are so delightfully unpredictable and so relentless that around half an hour in you simply give in and enjoy the ride.  It is purposefully bad in a rare way, and on multiple viewings it just seems to get better and better.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…what you might see if you were to watch Power Rangers whilst taking a hit of acid every five minutes.”–Dave Robson, Sound on Sight (festival screening)

CAPSULE: VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL [Kyûketsu Shôjo tai Shôjo Furanken] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Yoshihiro Nishimura, Naoyuki Tomomatsu

FEATURING: Yukie Kawamura, Takumi Saito, Eri Otoguro

PLOT: Two Japanese high school girls compete for the affections of a fellow student. One of

Still from Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl

them is a vampire, the other becomes a “Frankenstein girl” built of composite parts with the help of her mad scientist father.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It certainly has its share of weird and outrageous moments, but on the whole Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl is too slick, too self-aware, and too ho-hum to warrant a place on the ListSplatterpunk has its place there, but this is not the best representative of the genre.

COMMENTS: Narrated by Jyugon, a spineless but attractive high school boy, the film attempts to parody several high school subcultures while the paranormal plot thickens.  Though Jyugon is forced to date Keiko, a bossy Lolita, he soon finds himself the object of the affections of quiet transfer student Monami.  She feeds him a chocolate with her blood in it and turns him into a vampire, and inadvertently kills the jealous Keiko.  The latter’s father is the unassuming vice principal to the naked eye, but with the help of the sexy school nurse he secretly kills students so he can attempt to reanimate them in his basement lab.  He has a breakthrough with a magical drop of Monami’s blood and is able to assemble a new body for Keiko so she can wreak havoc on Jyugon and Monami’s tepidly developing romance.  There doesn’t seem to be much at stake, really, since Jyugon isn’t actually interested in either of the girls who are fighting over him.

Shooting a good portion of the movie as if it were a music video, directors Yoshihiro Nishimura and Naoyuki Tomomatsu don’t lack for visual ideas.  The kabuki costumed mad scientist, wide-jawed vampire, acid-trip hallucinations, non sequitur demon fight opening, wacky Bride of Re-Animator-esque composite creatures, and of course showers upon showers of blood tie well into the quick cuts, fluorescent lighting, and spontaneous musical numbers.  Scuffles with a feisty drop of blood and all-out duels between a crazed re-animated nurse and a manservant wielding human bones as weapons are sure to amuse any fan of weird Japanese grindhouse flicks, with a number of solid blood-based tools adding that vampiric flavor.  The model-attractive high school students and mini-skirts bring an appeal to various other viewer types.

With about an hour of build-up and 20 minutes of reward, Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl tests the audience’s patience.  The scenes involving the wrist-cutting club and Ganguro club are meant to be satirical but feel haphazard and irrelevant, while Jyugon’s narration is over-obvious and not as funny as it was probably intended.  Of course one wouldn’t expect well-developed characters or an especially clever script based on the title alone, but it just isn’t as fun as it could have been.  Everything is very slick, choreographed, and over-digital, making it less loose and enjoyable than many other films of this ilk.  Its interesting battle scenes and goofy gore don’t quite make up for lackluster humor, poorly thought-out characters, and an unsatisfying climax.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Japan has never really been shy of weird and crazy horror flicks… Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl is the latest to join the cult… [this entry is] a more comedy-oriented film that still bears all the typical treats of its predecessors, but adds a layer of silly comedy not quite unlike Cromartie High. The result is mighty strange, as you might have expected.”–Niels Matthijs, Twitchfilm (DVD)