Tokyo Tribe

*1/2

Reviewed by: Donald Munro

Tokyo Tribe
"Like rap without rhythm, Tokyo Tribes is missing something vital: plot and characters."

Tokyo Tribes by Shion Sono is an over the top gang war extravaganza told mostly through the medium of Japanese rap and hip hop. A Manga based rap opera with gang warfare and ultra violence - what's not to like? Well most of it. The first disappointment is the rap. In rap the voice is used as a cross-rhythmed instrument. With its stresses and plosives a word like motherfucker lends itself to a 3/2 cross-rhythm but when delivered flat and without the strong alliterative "r" (as would be expected of a native speaker of Japanese) it loses its function. It has all the drive of a base drum with a blanket stuffed in it. In a way it's fitting that the word becomes a musical motif for the film, something that is trying to be over the top and offensive but just comes out flat and dull.

It is easy to see how a movie like this could be bad but not how it could be dull. How could it when the action and acting are so exaggerated, when it has stunning shots filmed in Kodachrome on crack, when it's overstuffed with a cacophony of film references from The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover to an industrial versions of the ubiquitous fight in a bamboo forest? Like rap without rhythm, Tokyo Tribes is missing something vital: plot and characters. Several small gangs hate the evil boss man and his misogynist cannibalistic gang. The evil boss and his gang hate the other gangs. They fight. That's all the plot you get. Two hours and that's it. Each gang does its own little routine where the leader tells you that they are "bad ass hardcore motherfuckers who will fuck you up". There's 40 solid minuets of this and the only discernible difference between any of the main characters is their costumes. Glitter ball samurai or baseball shirt and Chinese underclass hair, that's it for characterisation.

Copy picture

The film almost has a saving grace, style over substance. It has the looks if not the lifestyle. Throughout it has amazingly crafted tracking shots. The opening shot is several minutes in length the camera, pivoting from actor to actor as they move through the urban sprawl. The shot mostly follows a lone rapper, the narrator, a slight figure in a grey hoodie, as he sets the scene of poverty, danger and decay, but the world that he inhabits is too colourful, too clean - it's like South Central The Musical's opening night on Broadway. Many of the tracking shots mimic those used in music videos and some manage to convey movement that can be implied as in comic artists' use of frames. That is something that I have not really seen since Bava's Danger Diabolik (though the way that Bava does it is quite different).

Tokyo Tribes is a film that I really wanted to like. It is pretty and has some amusing bits in the final battle between the gangs, I'll give it that, but in the end it is two hours of overproduced music video.

Reviewed on: 25 May 2015
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Hybrid of Yakuza gang action and hip-hop musical.
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