by Elliot Davies
Sion Sono’s latest is a relentless kaleidoscope of cartoon violence set to ceaseless trap beats. Tokyo Tribe had a UK preview at the 2015 Derby Film Festival.
At the time of writing, it’s Thursday May 7 2015 – Election Day – and the exit polls have just been released, revealing that we might be waking up to an unexpected Tory majority.
Hopefully, this time next week this whole thing will be a distant memory – nothing more than the final jump scare that’s expected from nightmares and monsters.
But the way it’s going, it’s looking more likely that the streets of Britain will soon resemble the insane lawless pandemonium that’s depicted in Shion Sono’s rap-battle gang-warfare cock-envy-comedy, Tokyo Tribe.
Tokyo Tribe is an adaptation of the popular manga, Tokyo Tribe2. It’s a violent comedy musical, in which adversaries engage in tongue-in-cheek rap battles before taking to each others’ faces with baseball bats.
Around 90% of the dialogue is rapped. Apparently, there is absolutely no mention at all of hip hop in the original manga. So there’s that.
Visually, Tokyo Tribe is intoxicating. Every single scene – without exception – is a sprawling mess of obscene balloon art, golden gangsta opulence, cyberpunk arcade chic, Byker-Grove grime, and late 90s music video excess. Most of the action takes place in breathtaking long-takes crowded with wild extras – one scene inexplicably features a man in an oil drum, writhing in unguent – and the deafening soundtrack of pounding beats and trilling samples never relents, ever.
Fireworks regularly emerge from nowhere, screaming across the screen, and nary a punch or kick is thrown that doesn’t result in the victim flying thousands of feet into the air, before landing in a pile of something or other, which usually explodes.
It looks and sounds like a hallucinogenic cross of Jet Set Radio, Saints Row, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – with a few abandoned circuses and haunted fairgrounds tucked into the corners, wherever they’ll fit.
Everybody’s unhinged – none more so than demented gang-leader/cannibal/satanist Buppa, played by cult Japanese hero, and perma-mullet icon, Riki Takeuchi. He wears a gold suit, he speaks in a drunken growl, and he has some teeth tattooed on his left cheek.
Incidentally, Tekeuchi recently branched out from the world of acting to embark upon a pop career. Here’s his debut single, Superwave, which shall be presented without comment:
Tokyo Tribe is gleefully, shamelessly, horrifically politically incorrect. Some scenes are utterly intolerable. You’re going to get some walkouts.
However, it might be argued that the often-outrageous misogyny is balanced by the presence of some insanely powerful women, whilst the mild homophobia is countered by some wild homoeroticism.
Such arguments won’t get you very far, so it might be better argued that Tokyo Tribe was never meant to be taken seriously. After all, this is a world in which DJs have prime positions next to noodle bars, and where break-dancing can be used to open doors. Cars are so pimped out that they have chandeliers in lieu of wing mirrors, and mobile phones are available encased within solid gold handguns.
Somewhere in the midst of this madness is something resembling a plot, but you don’t have to worry about that. This is the sort of film that rewards total disengagement. Turn off your brain, if you can. And if the option’s available to you, try to watch it whilst in a state of advanced inebriation.
Give it a year and there’ll probably already be a Tokyo Tribe drinking game. Final rules TBC, but let’s get the ball rolling:
- Every time a firework goes off, you take a drink
- Every time Mera screams “Kai!”, you take a drink
- Every time Kai screams “Mera!”, you take a drink
- Every time someone threatens a woman with a knife, you take a drink
- Every time a woman kicks a man in the groin, you take a drink
- Every time a baseball bat connects with a head, you take a drink
You get the idea.
So anyway, at the moment, Britain feels doomed. But hey. If the streets of Britain don’t soon resemble these wild streets of Tokyo, at least we’ll have a new drinking game to play, to take our minds off the encroaching horrors of the outside world.
Tokyo Tribe is released in the UK on May 8, 2015.