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  Tokyo Tribe Rap Battle Royale
Year: 2014
Director: Sion Sono
Stars: Young Dais, Tomoko Karina, Akihiro Kitamura, Ryôhei Suzuki, Hitomi Katayama, Kokone Sasaki, Shôta Sometani, Riki Takeuchi, Nana Seino, Shôko Nakagawa, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Haruna Yabuki, Yui Ichikawa, Hiroko Yashiki, Denden, Motoki Fukami, Mika Kanô
Genre: Musical, Action, Martial Arts, Science Fiction, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Tokyo of the near future, and the city has been separated into districts ruled by rival gangs. It rains often, poverty and violence are rife, and as if that wasn't bad enough there's the threat of a devastating earthquake seemingly imminent every day, but the residents get by somehow, usually by comparing themselves to the other gangs and finding them lacking. As for the police, forget it, they just don't want to get involved: take the case of this evening where a young rookie cop on patrol with her older partners spots trouble on the street ahead and goes over to investigate despite their warnings. There she finds Mera (Ryôhei Suzuki) selling music - but there's drugs hidden in the packages and she tries to arrest him, only to be stripped topless at knifepoint.

From that we get the idea future Tokyo (why yes, this was based on a manga, how did you guess?) is not the finest place to be, but we also get an idea of the gangs and districts in the movie as Mera teaches the unfortunate rookie a lesson in geography on her torso. This was director Sion Sono's follow-up to his instant cult favourite Why Don't You Play in Hell? which it can be no coincidence also ended with a half hour battle sequence for a climax, though this equalled that earlier film in its wackiness, even if the brutality included sexual threats this time around, rendering it that bit less accessible. They were not central to the plot, as more often than not it was a different culture Japanese movies than were used to being depicted, that of American gangsta rap.

Japanese gangstas? It happened, and Sion as ever proclaimed his love of Western films over Japanese ones by drawing his inspiration from a selection of cult street gang flicks, ranging from the most obvious influence in The Warriors to others like A Clockwork Orange and the similarly musical Streets of Fire. That's correct, musical, for almost all the dialogue was rapped to a beat, mostly in Japanese but with English phrases thrown in as well, largely swearing but other colourful dialogue as well. The effect was like a twisted Eastern variation on West Side Story, except instead of dance numbers we had mass outbreaks of martial arts, which may have been faithful to the Japanese genre of its own gangster movies with the plethora of Yakuza efforts that came before this, but made for a curious hybrid.

You don't need me to tell you how curious, as a synopsis would be enough to outline the sheer strangeness of the plot, never mind the details such as the big bad boss Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) and his insane love of eating the severed fingers of his rivals, all adding to a melange of almost goofy eccentricity. The gangs are brought together in a war after one daughter of an elderly boss goes missing in Tokyo and she becomes much sought after, but who is she? If you've been paying attention, and if you haven't the film tells you anyway, it's the girl picked up on the streets by Buppa's girl-collecting underlings, calling herself Sunmi (Nana Seino) who initially appears to be a passive slip of a thing until she finds herself in the evil lair of her kidnapper and proceeds to unleash an impressive display of kung fu on any henchmen approaching her.

The narrative was flimsy enough to allow various setpieces that outshone any attempts to make sense of them, though the central notion that any wars are carried out with the minimum of sense and the maximum of madness was something that resonated now more than ever, especially when you find out the ridiculous reason Mera instigated his aggressive rivalry with peaceloving Kai (Young Dais, an actual rapper who supervised the English subtitles for the benefit of non-Japanese speakers). In the main, the advice with Tokyo Tribe would not be to think about it too hard, it did have a moral but that was swamped in regular bouts of nutty humour and all-out action, even referencing Scarface (the Brian De Palma remake, natch) for its denouement as the feared Waru gang make their presence felt, reminiscent of the Ducky Boys from The Wanderers. It was that kind of spot the reference movie - yup, there's the Bruce Lee allusion - but even if you hadn't seen all those previous efforts you would appreciate the invention on display, if not the general, hard-edged silliness.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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