Tokyo Tribe (AKA Tokyo Tribe2, トウキョウ トライブ トゥー, Tōkyō Toraibu Tū): near future Tokyo is divided into sections ruled by street gangs; but war is about to breakout when one gang tries to take over. Just when you think you’ve seen everything from Japan they throw out a West Side Story style film, acted out almost entirely though musical rap battles – a Hip-HOpera! It’s a sweet idea to begin with, but at two hours long it’s stretched to the limit; the continually repeated drum breaks become grating, and forcing the lines to rhyme means the dialogue feels clunky in parts – although it could be lost in translation. Also, because modern music videos have massive production, parts of this look a bit cheap in comparison. The set and character designs are impressive, epic sprawls of graffiti’d urban decay, futuristic nightclubs, and a grand dining room. Not that this needed it, but the manga origins give this licence to be crazy with some hammy acting (Buppa), big haircuts, robo-mecha babes… classic Japan! The action is well executed, and the large-scale finale battle is particularly impressive. It feels like the director knew that the rap-battles would only be novel for so long (it doesn’t help that the narrator / central character is uncharismatic) so he throws up something risqué every 5 mins or so to perk you up; gratuitous nudity and fondling, or provocative and controversial dialogue. From the director of Love Exposure and Cold Fish, this couldn’t be more different – but it’s an even more ambitious, unique, and admirable feat than those.
Shaolin Soccer (少林足球, Siu lam juk kau): a has-been footballer (soccer player) convinces a struggling Kung-Fu master to form a football (soccer) team with his equally gifted ragamuffin friends. It’s so silly, bawdy, theatrical and over-the-top that it feels like it’s based on a manga series – apparently it isn’t! The story’s a bit stupid, but the film finds some form during the wire-work and CGI heavy ‘football’ (‘soccer) matches. Even by bad Asian standard the acting – although probably closer to mincing – is fairly shoddy, and it’s difficult to know if the actors were hired for their martial arts skills because most of the action is entirely green screen. Shaolin Soccer is entertaining enough, but behind the SFX it’s quite a formulaic sports film that’s too erratic to properly enjoy, and not particularly funny or dramatic enough to be noteworthy. All-in, I can’t understand why there’s so much love for this – definitely not one for proper football (soccer) fans.
Persepolis: animation following an Iranian girl growing up in Teheran and Austria. Although the obvious attraction to this film is its amazing aesthetics – and from the start to finish it’s nothing but amazing – it’s easy to forget that the actual story is so remarkable. Above this the film is quite informative, giving a good background of the modern history of Iran, yet there are so many funny bits to balance out the tragedies and shocks. I’ve not seen anything like this, and was mesmerised for the full 90 minutes. I’d suggest watching this with the French audio and subtitles (unless you won’t be affected by Sean Penn and Iggy Pop doing the English audio… WTF?!?!?) Would recommend this to most people.