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.
Killers (キラーズ, Kirazu): a serial killer who uploads his work to a ‘DeathTube‘ site inspires an everyman to go vigilante. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve seen directors harness everything down to the distributors & funders logos to add to the film’s aesthetic; and with this level of detail from the get go, the film is technically admirable – sound, editing, camerawork etc. The opening 5 minutes really set the mood, with a shocking and ultra-graphic murder: the violence slowly escalates and darkens as the runtime progresses. Unlike The Raid‘s gritty-but-styalised – and even poetic – gore, this film is just plain gritty. One killer is a savvy psychopath fit for Dexter, the other is an everyman pushed over the edge, Falling Down style. Another unique aspect is that it’s a collaborative effort from two directors (The Mo Brothers – not real brothers), filmed in two locations – Japan and Indonesia – with English spoken parts when the two leads interact; it doesn’t hinder the film’s international appeal, although something feels lost in translation story-wise. At 140 minutes it does lose feel rather long-winded and intricate for what is essentially a serial killer movie with a disjointed story and not much in the way of themes or messages. If you like your gore gory, and your films stylish this ticks both boxes – although not a lot else. The main stars of Killers are the directors, who with more focus (shorter runtime and tighter story) could pose a serious threat to Gareth Evans as the king of contemporary Indonesian action.
Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚, Tsumetai Nettaigyo) (mild spoilers): a mild-mannered fish-shop owner crosses paths with a larger competitor who at first seems like an ideal business partner – but that veneer doesn’t last long. It feels like the director started out with two completely separate film ideas; the first 1-hour 45 contains a pretty credible, low-key, tense, but slow-burning con-man drama – with an off-kilter / black comedy undercurrent. The final act transforms the film into a full-blown slasher – which dwells on depraved sex, violence, gore and some body disposal scenes for a little longer than would be deemed comfortable (or necessary), peaking in a hyper-messy crimson-soaked blood ‘n’ guts finalé – shock cinema at it’s best; or perhaps worst! This wouldn’t usually be a big deal, but at 2.5 hours you could have cut two (better, and) entirely different 90-minute movies out of it – an Evil Dead style gore-romp, or Coen–esque black comedy. There are glimpses of superb direction and storytelling, straight off the bat, but they end up getting lost in the bigger-picture. Acting is also solid (the runaway star being leading man Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s full-bodied transformation) – although, along with everything else, it all gets watered down and lost within the superfluous runtime. This would, by normal standards, be anything but an ordinary film – particularly because it’s littered with gropey and sensational sex scenes – but when you’re following up from an epic like Love Exposure, this feels lukewarm in comparison.