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FNC 2014: Sion Sono’s ‘Tokyo Tribe’ playful, hyper-active and not afraid to experiment

FNC 2014: Sion Sono’s ‘Tokyo Tribe’ playful, hyper-active and not afraid to experiment


Tokyo Tribe
Written and directed by Sion Sono
Based on a manga by Santa Inoue
2014, Japan

The Festival du Nouveau Cinema excels at showcasing audacious cinema.  A perfect example is Sion Sono’s extravagant Hip-hop futuristic gangster musical, Tokyo Tribe, presented at the opening night of the FNC’s 10 years old program “Temps O” , an adaptation of Santa Inoue’s 1993 manga “Tok­yo Tribe 2”. In a futuristic Tokyo, six tribes divide the city stylistically and ideologically. They’re linked musically, in this continuous rap that goes on throughout the movie: it is a hip-hop battle that, just like a Greek Tragedy, takes place in a single place, in a single night with the same characters. It all leads up to the final confrontation which showcases a deeper ideological divide between Mera’s lustful ambition and Kai’s – his sworn enemy – values of unity and community.
From the start, the film surprises. A young man welcomes us and we follow him through the streets of Tokyo. He will be our narrator and guides us through the different scenes and characters, frequently taking back the musical stage to comment on the situation, addressing the audience directly. An old woman playing on her record deck will be the DJ of the story. Hip-hop, a youth urban musical genre born in the United States and spread to the world through globalization and soft imperialism becomes the language of the yakuzas, petty criminals, bro crews and hyper sexualized women of all types that make the Tokyo Tribe story.
While a relative peace reigns on Tokyo, the power thirsty Mera is the disruptive factor that leads to the great battle and final confrontation. If his goal is the ultimate conquest of Tokyo, his drive can be seen a universal reflection on power thirst, dreams of ultimate domination and the hyper-individualism that comes with it. The struggle is also, as we learn later on, sexual at its core, and the core motive as fake and phallus-shaped as the big plastic green penis that criminal leader and cannibal Buppa holds, to justify his power.
The movie leads us through a new geography of Tokyo, a geography of tribes, music, style, values and philosophy of life. To the “Fuck Da World” of Buppa and individualism and power drive of Mera answers the Musashino crew peace, love and brotherhood values. The dichotomy is even perceptible through the music, which becomes faster, darker and with more bass when it comes to the Mera- Buppa crew, switching to chill hip-hop rhythms with Kai’s Musashinos.
Fights, sex, gore, cannibalism, teleportation and agents that look like they come straight from the Matrix among other things make Tokyo Tribe a visually and musically challenging movie. It is colorful, fast, intense, absurd and never boring; the two hours seem to vanish in this two hour long hip-hop clash. Every scene is faster and more absurd than the former. Sex is everywhere and sex is also gore, power and violence. After all, it is on a sexy police officer’s chest that we first discover the city’s geography and politics, following the viscous knife of Mera on her skin drawing the city and pointing to the different tribes.  The many earthquakes that make the action slow down or stop are here the only recurrent reality sign that brings us back to the Tokyo we know.
To conclude, Sion Sono’s Tokyo Tribe is playful, hyper-active and unafraid to experiment and use stereotypes and classical references of Japanese cinema and amines, and overall constitutes a unique experience. Check it out when you get a chance!

Anne-Myriam Abdelhak