By Darin Skaggs
Director Sion Sono is known for his off the wall, homage filled, near parody filmmaking which includes the sexual desire driven four hour epic Love Exposure and last year’s love letter to filmmaking Why Don’t You Play in Hell? In the latter film, which is the only other Sono film I have actually seen unfortunately, Sono goes crazy with his choices. There is a scene of excessively strong vomiting which leads to a dues ex machina for a character in danger and a final fight that becomes one of the best action battle scenes in recent memory. The film is all sorts of crazy that many, maybe even including Sono, did not know how he was going to top himself or even come close to matching it. He might of not, but he goes way out of his way to attempt to match his previous work in his new film Tokyo Tribe, a hip-hop musical with an array of rival gangs that is remnant of The Warriors that all culminates into a giant immature brawl, unknown to the heroes, for the most supreme masculinity.
In this film a good amount of the dialogue is performed as hip-hop. It feels like a good percentage of that would be considered bad hip-hop music. There is no hint to tell us if this stuff is intentional or not, so when it is at its worst, it makes the movie almost unbearable. And that is not the only uncomfortable moments in the film. There are plenty of moments where some female characters have to have their tops off. It happens all the time in film, but here at times it just feels like he is just putting nudity in for nudity sake and it is presented on screen too long. As long as I am naming parts I was not fond of, the musical aspect wares out after about an hour and fifteen minutes of the two hour runtime. Thankfully, in the last half hour, the movie picks up again and becomes more absolutely fantastic sequences of martial arts fighting, insane CGI deaths and an array of pop culture references.
What really makes this film watchable, which despite all the parts that is working against it, the sheer ambition and commitment to the movie. It has a narrator of sorts, who is a young twenty something male who looks directly into the camera and raps exposition to us. Later when the tribes start to work together, he is there still singing to us as well as fighting along with the good guys. It is strange and a somehow perfect choice to match the film being made. All throughout Sono makes these choices, for sure in the last fight, but even with the slower parts in the middle finds the weirdest decision to make. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? had a lot going for it, worked for so long and the gimmick was throughout and used perfectly. Here he makes the right decision well more than half the film, but doesn’t make the landing in more than one way. Here is hoping his next film is another nearly perfect work of art, but I was glad to be in this strange world for two hours.