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Busby Berzerk-ly: Tokyo Tribe Reviewed
Cormac O'Brien , May 22nd, 2015 07:39

Cormac O'Brien takes a look at Sion Sono's bonkers sci-fi hip-hop musical, Tokyo Tribe (contains slight spoilers)

It’s probably nigh on impossible to pinpoint exactly where director Sion Sono draws his inspiration from in the pop cultural swirl of Tokyo Tribe. Elements appear from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (which in turn took influence from Toshio Matsumoto’s A Funeral Parade of Roses) and, of course, Walter Hill’s The Warriors, with perhaps even the campy verve of the 1960s Batman series getting a hat tip (it’s definitely pantomimic enough). Expect up-skirt shots, multiple protagonists, plot lines that taper into thin air, sexual violence, cannibalism, unnecessary breakdancing, unrelenting male bravado and a generous dollop of rap.

It’s extreme, racially suspect (there’s an almost super-powerfully strong black person), misogynistic (too many incidences to count) and homophobic (even Musashino the likable “and tightest crew” are “No homo” they “ain’t kissin dudes”), and compared to the anime it's based on we’re getting off lightly. But like many exploitation films, it has its tongue placed overtly in its cheek: self-aware, pulpy and crude, full of piss and vinegar, its every bombast verging on satire.

In a near future dystopia we find a Tokyo divided by 7 ruling hip-hop tribes - geographically illustrated early on with a knife dragged over a struggling lady cop’s naked chest - The Shibuya Saru, The Shinjuku Hands, The Gira Gira Girls, Nerimuthafuckaz, Bukura Wu-Ronz, Koeniji Jack and Musashino form the main clans. Delineated as much by dress as locale, they all don separately distinctive style or uniform.

Interspersed with expository rap, one of the many self-conscious narrators of Tokyo Tribe opens up the city to us, and the main tribes take their turn to espouse their ethos. Without much variation it’s usually all about braggadocio, sexual prowess and violence. “Wetting vaginas, dicks full of calibre”, “Violence and money, Sex and bitches”, “How do thugs live their lives? Money and power through homicide”. “If you ain’t ready to die, you can’t survive...”, that sort of thing. Tokyo Tribe isn’t concerned with metaphysical questions. The only real ideological war appears between Musashino’s advocacy of "peace and love" and the cold hard accumulation of cash, generic posturing and more stereotypically gangster conventions that the other tribes adhere to. With the tribal system transparent architecture for the forthcoming high bodycount showdown, plot and motivation become somewhat inconsequentially secondary to spectacle. But what a spectacle.

The Tribes hang in a kind of equilibrium, albeit a fragile one, until the Waru group led by Lord Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) and Mera (Ryôhei Suzuki) threaten the established order. Mera, fuelled by hatred of Musashino Tribe’s Kai (Young Dais), lures a Musashino member toward "Saga Town” with a promise of sexual encounters. But things go awry and well-liked Musashino member Tera (Ryûta Satô) is injured, lighting a fuse that will lead to all-out tribal war.

Buppa and Mera, the real menaces of Tokyo, live in an opulent golden manse with their other cohorts (including the devious morally ambiguous Daddy’s Boy Nkoi played by Yôsuke Kubozuka). Their predilection for cannibalism (“Today’s chef special - 22, charming and devoted to her parents”) only outstripped by their murderous renown. Buppa is a character straight out of manga nightmare, a campy kingpin, mugging his way through the performance as an eye rolling, monstrous, drooling, letch. When not finagling with lady bits, he’s brandishing a jade phallus, unexpectedly climaxing in elation, grunting, or sticking severed finger apertifs in his pie-hole. Mera, a straight up villain, be-thonged and badass, has beef with Musashino easily boiled down in rhyming couplet form as “The one I hate his name is Kai. His name means ‘sea’ but it oughta mean ‘dry’”. And while no one could argue with that extreme level of diss, luckily, for entertainment’s sake, his katana skills exceed his lyrical ones.

Proving that strong female leads can exist even in the most chauvinistically hellish of storylines, all that lies in their way is Sunmi (Denden) a kickass virginal teen, fleeing her Satanic high priest father, the aforementioned good guy Kai and kid prodigy Yon who’s vowed to bring hope and joy to the city if it’s the last thing he does. But up against such odds how will these few, these happy few, these band of brosefs prevail?

A gateway drug to 2008’s even more bonkers, 4 hour epic Love Exposure, Tokyo Tribe is a boys club, sanity splattering jaunt into Sono’s personalised head trauma. Ratcheting up the ante through a heady fog of blood spray, guffaw inducing nihilism and facile rap aphorisms, Sono’s commitment to played out '90s hip-hop culture is a breakneck running gag that’s commendable in its grandiosity. Ending in an almost victorious crescendo of male anatomy talk, that’s akin to an after-school-special for heart over crotch politics and brotherhood amongst the city’s varying penis sizes. We can only hope that Sion Sono continues to pit the boundaries of good taste against the limits of common sense.

Tokyo Tribe is out in selected cinemas today