Friday, October 10, 2014

LFF short review: Shion Sono feels the beat of the Tokyo Tribe

Almost a year ago, the Japanese filmmaker Shion Sono paved his way into my heart and the podium of my LFF Top 10 with his ultra-bonkers and ultra-violent comedy Why Don't You Play in Hell. This year he returns to the British capital with what has been described as the world's first “battle rap musical.” Tokyo Tribe, based on a best-selling manga, is set in a futuristic Tokyo ruled by violent gangs and thunderous beats.

It's The West Side Story on speed as the various gangs introduce themselves in a medley at the start of the film: "How do thugs live their life? Money and power through homicide?" Into this world enters Sunmi (Nana Seino), a shy girl with kick-ass fighting skills (not unlike Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element) who gets abducted by criminals.

Ironically, the film lacks a bit of rhythm. The mise-en-scène, with its neon lights, graffiti and giant speakers and the omnipresent music are relentlessly overwhelming (see the poster below), which means that the narrative and the characters are always secondary. The lyrics meanwhile often seem ordinary and, with the exception of a handful of inspired moments, there aren't as many laughs as there should be. How much of this was lost in translation is difficult to tell, but Sono never seems to get a firm grip on his crazy concept. The film's final line is rather confident: "Tokyo Tribe? I like it." I'm not sure I did, but there is fun to be had with this mad film.    

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