Latest Review – Tokyo Tribe [LFF] [Cult Strand]

Tokyo Tribe

Director: Sion Sono

Studio: Nikkatsu | Django Film

UK Distributor: Eureka! Entertainment

Year: 2014

Country: Japan

Genre: Drama | Action

Running Time: 117 minutes (1:57:11)

Certificate: 18

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Image: Colour

Language: Japanese




Imagine if you can a contemporary, hip-hop/rap musical fusion of Walter Hill’s The Warriors and Streets of Fire, John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Escape from LA, Jet Set Radio and West Side Story, on acid. Now add in elements of Pink Film, martial arts, exploitation movie, intense gang-land action and Yakuza drama and you have yourself a vague flavour of Tokyo Tribe, the relentless and generally insane latest offering from madcap Japanese auteur, Sion Sono, returning to the London Film Festival following last year assault on the senses, Why Don’t You Play In Hell?.

In adapting Santa Inoue’s influential cult ‘seinen’ manga for the big screen, contemporary Japanese cinema’s enfant terrible once again exceeds both boundaries and audience expectation, venturing further into unexplored cinematic territory and delivering a vibrant and rather exhausting work of raw energy and maximalist theatricality, the likes of which we have not seen before – well, not on this scale certainly!

Outlining the plot may seem a rather futile task as it could not possibly do justice to the vast array of subversive madness and underlying themes on display, however I will do my best to offer up a fairly rough summary of what you are likely to see.

The film is set against a backdrop of the slum-filled Neo-Tokyo of an unspecified, alternate near-future; a once major capital city now broken up into separate ‘hoods and fought over by twenty-three multitudinous gangs of wayward youths, with the crossing of territorial boundaries leading to instant rioting. Our young narrator informs us (in rap, of course) that over the following 12-hours the city will soon explode in a maelstrom of blood, violence and, quite possibly, all-out war. One tribal member then crosses over into rival tribe turf with some fellow gang members in an attempt to retrieve their kidnapped comrade; an event which soon triggers off the tribal bloodbath prophesied in the extended opening prologue.

Sion’s decision to cast non-professional actors in many of the principal roles (comprising well known Japanese rappers, DJs, tattoo artists and stunt performers) actually proves to be a very wise one at that. Unlike previous Sono features which have usually featured younger, fresher-faced performers in the central roles, here the casting feels much more authentic and performances more genuine. The downside to this is of course that those performers not so proficient in the art of rap stick out like sore thumbs against the professionals, which is what does tend to happen throughout the course of the film.

Sung-through (or should that be rapped-through) for the vast majority of the film (I can only recall a few odd lines of spoken dialogue), the film uses the lyrics to drive the plot along and convey all the necessary details required, often creating music from the images presented and accompanying the visual metaphors with a constant soundscape of pulsing electronic beats, crunching guitar riffs and dynamic drum tracks.

Though far from uninteresting, at nearly two-hours in length, the film does begin to feel a little overly long for what it ultimately wants to achieve, and there are moments which appear to be Sono’s attempts at filling out the gaps, rendering some sequences a little bloated. Yes, the film is built around an undeniably intriguing central premise, however as well executed as it generally proves, the plot never really goes anywhere. Sono’s trademark indulgence in excess and brutality often begins to feel a little too much, with the aggressive, confrontational rap-delivery wearing ever so slightly thin on more than one occasion. Cutting things down to around the 100-minute mark, removing a few irrelevant plot tangents and refining the lyrics would, I feel, have just made everything much tighter and slicker.

Like many of Sono’s preceding features, Tokyo Tribe is never going to appeal to everyone and I can fully appreciate why this may perhaps be the case. Admittedly it does take a few minutes or so to get into and adjust yourself to the quickfire delivery and unique rhythm the film incorporates, however if you allow yourself to be immersed in the bizarre futuristic world the film conjures up then your are pretty much guaranteed a totally unique and compelling audiovisual experience.



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