Tag Archives: Japanese

CAPSULE: ROBOGEISHA (2009)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Aya Kiguchi, Hitomi Hasebe,

PLOT: A pair of geisha sisters are abducted by an executive of an evil arms corporation, who plays on their sisterly rivalry to turn them into cyborg killing machines.

Still from RoboGeisha (2009)

COMMENTS: In 2008, Noboru Iguchi made a movie called The Machine Girl about a Japanese schoolgirl who installs a Gatling gun in her arm and goes on a murderous rampage of revenge. A year later, he came out with RoboGeisha, which is totally different. This one is about two geishas who install Gatling guns in their breasts and go on a murderous rampage of revenge.

There are other major differences between the two flicks, of course. RoboGeisha takes a (slightly) more serious stab at a plot than Machine Girl‘s bog-standard revenge template. It features two sisters with an unexpectedly complex love/hate dynamic (“sisters are… complicated,” says one, after the other appears to have been blown up during an assassination). Their relationship even comes with a minor twist at the end. RoboGeisha also favors comedy over the nonstop action and gore that marked Machine Girl. RoboGeisha‘s budget seems to be lower than its sister’s; nearly all of the special effects are rendered in CGI rather than through practical effects. The ludicrous sparkly gunshot effects from Machine Girl are carried over, but the sudden reliance on digitized blood spatters is especially disconcerting. The computerization sort of wastes the talents of special effects director , who’s at his best when building prosthetic limbs for Iguchi to lop off and hooking up hoses full of red karo syrup for him to direct onto the faces of his long-suffering actors and actresses.

I personally think that the tweaks Iguchi made to the formula result in an improved product. Many disagree. Gorehounds, in particular, may be disappointed by the paucity of severed heads and the bare trickle of scarlet bursting from neck-holes. And many complain that the focus on plot at the expense of action slows down the nonsense. To me, however, the relative restraint in the violence allows the movie to focus on the absurdity that is what I treasure in this trash. Acid breast milk, a folk protest song, fried shrimp eye-gouging, brain-caressing, and bleeding buildings are among the bizarro attractions to be found in this sleazy funhouse. And this is a movie  that doesn’t simply posit the existence of cybernetic butt-swords; it explicitly demonstrates how awkward a duel would be when the contestants have to crane their necks over their shoulders and backpedal into each to parry and thrust (while muttering, “how embarrassing”). That’s the kind of attention to detail Western B-movies tend to gloss over.

As was often the case with Japanese B-movies of this ilk and period, the DVD release contains a bonus “spin-off” short utilizing leftover sets, costumes and concepts. This one is called “GeishaCop: Fearsome Geisha Cops – Go to Hell” and is partly centered around a plot device requiring girl-on-girl kissing.  It includes a scene where members of the geisha army, still incognito as Kageno Steel Manufacturing workers, drink the blood of male captives during their lunch break, leading the protagonist to declare, with what some might view as understatement: “Something about this is strange. This is one twisted office.”

Unfortunately, the DVD is out of print in North America, and the available VOD version does not include the short, and offers only the English-dubbed version, to boot. It’s still worth a look if you like this genre.

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Reader review by “Cletus”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not that I loved either of the team’s previous efforts… but at least each had moments of truly unique creativity and even beauty amongst all the strange and grotesque gore. ‘Robogeisha’, however, contains only concepts, weird ideas and a few moments of self-reflexive humour. Otherwise it was mostly a pretty big bore.”–Bob Turnbull, “Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind” (festival screening)

CAPSULE: TOKYO TRIBE (2014)

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DIRECTED BY: Sion Sono

FEATURING: Kunihiko Kawakami, Young Dais, Nana Seino, Ryôhei Suzuki,

PLOT: When crazy Buppa releases the Waru gang onto the streets of Tokyo, the tribes unite and fight for survival to the sick beats of gangster rap.

Still from Tokyo Tribe (2014)

COMMENTS: If Tokyo Tribe came from any other director, I’d probably say he was trying too hard. However, having seen a few Sion Sono films now, I can see that this is just how the man operates: on a plane with far more mania and extravagance than we mere mortals. Minutes after opening on two urban youths playing with sparklers, dreaming about making a difference, we become fully tuned in to the manga world of Santa Inoue’s serialized epic. Live-action comics, rap battle exposition, and the silliest feud imaginable—Sion Sono delivers all this with his own amped up brand of gusto.

The mean streets of post-post-modern Tokyo are riddled with crime, prostitution, bootleg tapes, ineffectual cops, and close to two dozen gangs of themed thugs. The biggest and nastiest of all the gang lords is Buppa, a man of staggering vulgarity and true psychosis (performed by Riki Takeuchi as if he were a brain-damaged John Belushi). His prime henchman, Mera, holds a grudge against Kai, the leader of the “peaceful” gang, the Musashino Saru tribe. Kai offended Mera in a sauna some years back, and that’s all we’re told. The catalyst for action is the disappearance of the virginal daughter of the High Priest, who needs her for a sacrifice. The plot I’ve just provided is superfluous, and any more would force me to ramble on for some pages. Suffice it to say, you should just check your brain at the door and run with it.

Tokyo Tribe isn’t a weird movie—it is far too accessible for that (and yes, it is a bit weird how accessible this movie feels). But it does stand as one of the most ridiculous films I’ve ever seen (which is something I say neither lightly nor disparagingly). The glorious excess of Sion Sono’s vision of an alternative Tokyo has more than its share of hard R-rated shenanigans, but is somehow approachable throughout (although by the end, we’ll have seen a beat-box tea maid, balloon sex corridors, a case of cigars and fingers, and a black ninja giant who says only, “Bring me! To a! Sauna!”) While Tokyo Tribe doesn’t break the weird ceiling, it does lustily gouge at the plaster.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Words can never do justice to the awe-inspiring, brain-eating weirdness of Sion Sono’s Japanese dystopian hip-hop kung-fu musical Tokyo Tribe…  should all be either horrifying or hilarious — or, less generously, ridiculous and offensive — but somehow, it’s not. There’s a strange power to Sion’s filmmaking that goes beyond the midnight-movie oddness of the plot.”–Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine (contemporaneous)

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)

4*. ELECTRIC DRAGON 80000 V (2001)

Erekutorikku doragon 80000V

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Sogo Ishii [AKA Gakuryû Ishii]

FEATURING: , , voice of Masakatsu Funaki

PLOT: A boy who survives electrocution while climbing an electrical tower grows up to be “Dragon Eye Morrison,” a human battery and “reptile investigator” who tracks missing lizards and who can only control his violent impulses by playing his electric guitar. Meanwhile, “Thunderbolt Buddha,” a half-man, half-metal being who was also struck by lightning as a child, hears of our hero, and wants to test his electrical superpowers against his counterpart’s. The villainous Buddha provokes a high voltage showdown with Morrison on a Tokyo rooftop.

Still from Electric Dragon 80000V

BACKGROUND:

  • Sogo Ishii was an established director whose work was influenced by punk music and style. He was an influential figure for Japanese underground filmmakers, but his work is seldom seen outside of his homeland.
  • Industrial/noise band MACH-1.67, an occasional ensemble that included director Ishii and star Asano, provided the music. They subsequently performed concerts with this film playing in the background.
  • Composer Hiroyuki Onogawa said he had never written rock music nor worked much with the electric guitar before this project.
  • The movie was a cult success in Japan, running to packed houses in one theater for two months. Plans for a Part 2 were discussed, but never materialized.
  • Reports suggest that the film was shot in three days (other accounts say three weeks, and obviously post-production took much, much longer) and largely improvised.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’re going to go with the visage of the movie’s villain, a half-man, half-statue. (Beyond the fact that he was struck by lightning as a child, his alloyed origins are never explained.)

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Thunderbolt Buddha, TV repairman; pre-rage noise solo

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A team of Japanese industrial punks decide to made a surrealistic black and white superhero noise musical. If this sounds awesome to you, we won’t argue.

Original trailer for Electric Dragon 80000V

COMMENTS: We can dispense with any sort of search for deep Continue reading 4*. ELECTRIC DRAGON 80000 V (2001)

1*. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)

Katakuri-ke no kôfuku

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida,

PLOT: The Katakuri clan retires to a remote mountain area to run a bed and breakfast, but the place seems cursed, as every guest who stays there dies. The Katakuris try to cover up the deaths to avoid bad publicity, while frequently bursting into song and dance numbers.

Still from The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Happiness of the Katakuris is actually a remake (some say a “very loose” remake) of a Jee-woon Kim’s (non-musical) Korean black comedy The Quiet Family.
  • Miike made Katakuris the same year as Visitor Q, an even blacker comedy which also deals with the theme of a “happy” Japanese family. Katakuris and Q were two of a remarkable eight movies the prolific auteur released in 2001.
  • The Happiness of the Katakuris received the highest number of total votes in 366 Weird Movies first Apocryphally Weird movie poll, making it arguably the most popular weird movie left off the 366 Weird Movies canon.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: We’ll have to go with that little claymation yōkai/imp that pops out of a random diner’s soup and falls in love with her heart-shaped uvula—with bizarrely comic results.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Claymation infatuation; reanimated corpse song and dance

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Katakuri clan came about as close to making the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made as possible; we held off honoring them partly because their movie, while weird indeed, was overlong and uneven, and partly because Takashi Miike was already well-represented with three Canonically Weird movies, and it was time to give someone else a shot. The movie’s inclusion on the secondary list of Apocrypha titles was assured, and it’s a highly appropriate choice for the inaugural title in our runners-up category.

Short clip from The Happiness of the Katakuris

COMMENTS: The Happiness of the Katakuris begins with a four-minute scene, which really has nothing to do with the rest of the Continue reading 1*. THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2001)