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  Tokyo Dragon Chef Confessions Of A Ramen Fiend
Year: 2020
Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura
Stars: Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Yasukaze Motomiya, Yutaro, Rinne Yoshida, Saiko Yatsuhashi, Subaru Ando, Yuki Ashida, Yuta Chatani, Masayuki Ino, Yuya Ishikawa, Keisuke Kida, Michi, Kazuki Miki, Hitoshi Ozawa, Kazuyoshi Ozawa, Tak Sakaguchi, Hiroshi Shinagawa
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Action, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The crime world in Japan has changed over the years, and the previous iron grip the Yakuza once had over the landscape has loosened as they become irrelevant, their members ageing out of their positions of power and nobody recruited from the uninterested younger generations to take their place. So it is when Tatsu (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) emerges from prison after a long stretch, his brother Ryu (Yasukaze Motomiya) is there to meet him with disturbing information: they are old news, their posts in what remains of the Yakuza have been discontinued, and they will have to find a new source of income. Luckily for them both, Tatsu has not been idle inside...

What has Japanese cinema come to when your basic Yakuza thriller has to be revamped with the gangsters, those stalwarts of the scene for decades, having to retrain as ramen chefs and open a little restaurant in a quiet neighbourhood of Tokyo? It's come to a result that's surprisingly entertaining, that's what, even if it was, under Yoshihiro Nishimura's direction, deeply silly. He was best known for his gore makeup in at times self-helmed films as Tokyo Gore Police or Helldriver, but this, while just as packed with energy as his previous works, was something more benign, not quite family fare but about as close as you could get from this talent before he lost his knack completely.

The pair of brothers have an ace up their sleeve when it comes to making ramen in that Tatsu became an expert at precisely this while in prison, so is a dab hand at his culinary concoctions. Just ask Kokoro (Rinne Yoshida), a schoolgirl gourmet of the Asian dish who is so transported by its taste that she breaks out into song (this was a musical as well, because of course it was) and becomes the siblings' biggest fan. But the simmering resentments of old are apt to return, for their former rivals the Ozawa brothers move into the neighbourhood too, having turned similarly obsolete thanks to an upstart named Gizumo (Yutaro) who chased off or killed what Yakuza there were in the city.

Nishimura appeared to be making a point about the older generation, of which he was a member, finding value in the face of uncaring youth, and given Japan's ageing population was a genuine social concern when the old outnumbered the young significantly, you could observe he had his finger on the pulse. However, if you were considering that while all the madness unfolded on the screen, congratulations, for there was a plethora of distractions to contend with which successfully obscured any attempts at making that serious point. For many Japanese movie fans, this would be just fine, and anyone with a sincere hope of regarding life as it was lived in the Land of the Rising Sun would be advised to seek elsewhere was much of this was living in a fantasy world, albeit one on a low budget and capriciously plotted.

Take the Ozawas when they hit upon a method of taking their enemies' customers: not by crafting a tastier dish, but by heaping masses of noodles and pork into larger bowls and inviting them to stuff their faces. They publicise this with a YouTuber, the film sending up the media influencers by depicting them as self-centred and naive - yet handy if you want to gather patrons to your business. The Ozawa influencer, however, is absolutely grotesque, a young woman named Mimi (Saiko Yatsuhashi) decked out in pink rubber (with a tail), facial tattoos, a pink bob, pointed ears and so forth who bristles visibly when anyone questions whether she is actually human (which is debatable in light of the enormous amount of food she consumes without ever putting on weight). Meanwhile Gizumo, who has a third eye carved in his forehead and eyeball-mask wearing henchmen, is scheming to wipe them all out for good. Exuberant was the word for this ludicrous but entertaining weirdness; it eschewed the director's love of gore for something nearly unclassifiable. Music by Akiko Kawano and Kou Nakagawa.

[Tokyo Dragon Chef will be on DVD & Digital Download from 25th January 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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