You have to hand it to Sion Sono. Here is a director who refuses to sit still, pinballing from epic melodrama (‘Love Exposure’) to Beckettian dystopia (‘Himizu’) to wild Yakuza gore (‘Why Don’t You Play in Hell?’) without pausing for breath.
But after all this anarchy, ‘Tokyo Tribe’ still feels like his most outrageous statement to date: a grotesque, kill-crazy Japanese-language hip-hop musical told almost exclusively in rhyme and drenched in violent sex, random depravity and berserk kung fu. It’s a wild, at times exhilarating watch – but an exhausting one.
The plot isn’t really worth summarising, but we’ll give it a go: in an alternate Tokyo ruled by warring gangs and phat, old-school beats, enigmatic stranger Sunmi (Nana Seino) is kidnapped by the vile, sadistic Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) to be his new brothel-slave. But Buppa doesn’t know that Sunmi has a dark secret – and it involves cannibalistic sacrifice, the world’s strongest (but least well-endowed) man and an ancient, wispy-bearded Buddhist overlord who likes to call everyone ‘motherfucker’.
Sono is not afraid to flash his influences – ‘The Warriors’ heads the pack, with ‘Beat Street’, ‘West Side Story’ and countless madcap manga flicks not far behind. But while there’s no doubting its ambition or imagination – there are scenes of visually sumptuous anarchy here that beggar belief, and the climactic smackdown is a joy – it’s hard to fully engage with ‘Tokyo Tribe’.
With zero character development, a repetitive and largely unmemorable score and a final showdown that centres on a battle for phallic supremacy (seriously), extreme weirdness seems to be its main reason for existing – and it’s hard to keep that up for two hours. As it were.