Tokyo Tribe (2014)    1 Stars
Tokyo Tribe (2014)
Tokyo Tribe (2014)


Director: Shion Sono

Cast: Tomoko Karina, Akihiro Kitamura, Hitomi Katayama

Synopsis: In an alternate Japan, territorial street gangs form opposing factions collectively known as the Tokyo Tribes. Merra, leader of the Wu-Ronz tribe of Bukuro crosses the line to conquer all of Tokyo. The war begins.

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Chances are, Tokyo Tribe is a movie you sought out rather than stumbled upon. Its appeal is limited, its commercial potential virtually zero outside of Asia. A highly stylised ‘battle rap’ musical with vibrant visuals, a young cast and an irreverent attitude which belies its Manga roots, Tokyo Tribe is more an experience than a movie – an insane, violent collision of sick and quirky ideas that really should repulse most viewers, but which holds a curious fascination that prevents us from hitting the stop button.

The story takes place over the course of one rainy night in an alternate reality Tokyo in which various gangs hold sway over their own small portion of the city. They observe an uneasy truce – until, that is, the megalomaniac gang boss Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) launches an offensive to wipe out all the other gangs and claim the city for his own.

It’s difficult to describe Tokyo Tribe. Most of its dialogue is sung in hip-hop rap, but it’s not a conventional musical. In the opening five minutes, after an incredible lengthy panning shot which introduces us to the look and feel of the city and its inhabitants, we see a young policewoman, dressed more like a stripper than a cop, trying to arrest a drug dealer brazenly selling his wares on the street. A growing crowd of onlookers cheer as the dealer rips open the policewoman’s shirt and fondles her bare breasts before running the tip of a knife blade over them. Not exactly Julie Andrews singing on a mountaintop, is it?

This madness continues for nearly two hours, with each new shocker out-trumping the last. Buppa wears a gold suit and has a tattoo on his left cheek. He sometimes eats the girls he abducts, while his equally bonkers son uses other abductees as his furniture, dusting them in white powder before forcing them into permanently contorted positions. The savagery of the villains is at odds with the vibrancy of the bold orange-red colour scheme against which members of the other various gangs cavort like extras in some lame 1990s music video. In fact, Tokyo Tribe often feels like a throwback to the 1990s – and not really in a good way; the kids, most in hip-hop uniforms, all look as if they’re mimicking what they’ve seen American kids do, and they sing their lines with varying degrees of success.

I’m not sure Tokyo Tribe has the lofty artistic aspirations which have some attributed to it, but there’s no denying its watchable, even if you might do so with a permanent grimace on your face. The finale is as over-the-top bonkers as you’ll be expecting if you make it that far, with a fair few of the cast being vaporised in CGI explosions of blood by a gigantic fan as director Shion Sono reduces the politics of gang warfare to a literal dick-swinging contest.

(Reviewed 13th August 2015)

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