LFF 2014: Sion Sono’s mad musical ‘Tokyo Tribe’ is essential viewing for fans of oriental excess


Tokyo Tribe
Written and directed by Sion Sono
Japan, 2014

Foul-mouthed octogenarian rappin’ n’ scratching grandmothers. Abrasive, gold-laminated 3D holographic shamans. A scene -tealing human-beatbox waitress, buxom yakuza mistresses, sex-crazed adolescents, breakdancing ninja dervishes, and tank-wielding Shibuya henchmen. All these ingredients and more are present in the latest dish of neon-lit lunacy from Japanese provocateur Sion Sono, a filmmaker with a long and distinguished relationship with the London Film Festival following exposure for his earlier cult cuts Cold FishExte: Hair Extensions, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. His latest film, Tokyo Tribe, is another one for the midnight movie crowd: a delirious contemporary musical based on the popular manga by Santa Inoue, it’s a phantasmagorical pop art pastiche of the American rhythms of Streets of Fire, West Side Story, and The Warriors.

Tangoing through elaborately swirling steadicam long takes, the film unfolds firmly within the musical genre  – dialogue is sung, rapped and yapped, punching through a dizzying mélange of electro, techno, hip-hop and rap. The vision of Tokyo is almost apocalyptic, with graffiti and litter-choked streets illuminated in a stark widescreen wonder, scrawling through a diffused and rather redundant plot which involves the corpulent and ornately ostentatious yakuza boss Big Daddy (Riki Takeuchi) and his psychopathic sons  Nkoi (Yôsuke Kubozuka) and brazen bleach-haired Mera (Ryôhei Suzuki) declaring war on the various Tokyo tribes. 

Tokyo Tribe

Each of these factions hail from the various enclaves and districts of the Japanese metropolis and sport their own distinctive musical mode and fashion paraphernalia, setting aside their individual grudges in order to defeat the lunatic crime family. Our main hero among the frenzied formations is DJ warrior of the Musashino clan Kai Deguchi  (Young Dais), while the quietly demure Sunmi (Nana Seino) becomes a martial arts marauder once she gets into the spirit of things. It really doesn’t matter, though, as the narrative cartwheels from musical track to frantic fight sequence, clearly orchestrated to bamboozle an adolescent audience with enough scantily-clad ninja hookers to make Frank Miller blush.

At two hours, Tokyo Tribe is unquestionably half an hour too long, and the pace does begin to falter toward the final stretch, with only some of the visual gags and imaginatively cruel deaths peaking interest in a journey which begins to fall into some slightly self-indulgent repetitive beats. However, the overall effect is the most narcotic tumble through the Japanese urban jungle since Enter the Void, an experience akin to a ecstasy-induced Sunday morning stumbling around the preening playground of Harajuku. It’s essential viewing for any fans of oriental excess.

– John McEntee

Visit the official website of the BFI London Film Festival.

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