Wednesday, 8 October 2014
At the LFF: "Tokyo Tribe"
Sion Sono refuses to grow up, but Tokyo Tribe, much more so than last year's splurgy Why Don't You Play in Hell?, demonstrates how there might still be advantages to that. This thoroughly adolescent proposition unfolds in a near-future Tokyo that has been taken over by rival gangs who conduct all their dialogue in rapped couplets. There's something inherently amusing in the idea of Japanese gangster rap, yet Sono finds admirable, sustaining variety therein; you can well imagine the soundtrack becoming a cherished artefact among today's tribes. Some performers come out spitting bullets in the Eminem or Wu Tang style; the nicer boys default to old-school, Jurassic 5-like beats; others drop rhymes like Snow or yo momma.
At any rate, Sono buys enthusiastically into a certain rap credo: the film is composed of equal parts bling, violent deaths, and an obsession with dick size. Women are generally regarded as victims and/or commodities, an element you'll have to forgive or overlook in the way you would a misguided 14-year-old nephew who's just discovered "Bitches Ain't Shit": you know where the film's mind is at when the early, crucial exposition of which gang goes where gets played out on the naked torso of a female cop who's wandered into the wrong part of town. That scene actually flags all sorts of internal problems, not least how there are far too many key players - sorry, playas - for the narrative to stay in any kind of focus.
Yet it's possible simply to get off on the energy and deranged invention of the thing - how Sono has successfully managed to stretch the aesthetic and attitude of a four-minute promo into a two-hour feature in a way no other director really has. To a constant, pounding soundtrack, the camera keeps poking around, finding new pockets of interest in this gaudy, grungy universe - whether some incredible, wire-assisted moves (I liked the martial artist who clears a restaurant table with a soft-shoe shuffle) or the toplayer of eyepopping production design: in this latter field, the car with chandeliers hanging from its wing mirrors is just pipped by the room full of naked living statues. If Blade Runner had been pimped out by Hype Williams, it might have looked a whole lot like Tokyo Tribe.
Yes, it's silly, cartoonish, Tarantinoid enough that a character can show up amid the final battle royale wearing a Kill Bill jumpsuit, and not appear in the least bit incongruous. If Sono's Himizu and The Land of Hope were founded on wellsprings of authentic suffering and emotion, those have been cleared away, and we might perhaps lament the director's apparent retreat into action as essentially fake and heavily ironised as the pixellated spurts of blood it here throws up: even Tokyo Tribe's carnage is pitched on the level of Grand Theft Auto, and there's a sense it's just waiting to be converted into an immersive multiplayer in which console junkies are invited to pick their side and their sword and thereafter go to town - or, indeed, to hell. Still, that's another kind of fun, one concedes - and while it's unfolding, Sono's film offers its own unarguable novelty.
Tokyo Tribe screens tomorrow (Thu 9) at 9pm at the Curzon Soho, and again on Sat 11 at 6.15pm at Rich Mix.