Written by: BenIt’s one thing to see a movie like Tokyo Tribe and another completely to express what the movie is and how it is to people who may not ‘get’ the movie’s that come to Fantastic Fest. I don’t say that to come off as superior or belittle any of you fine Reelers out there that have never been to the festival or seen releases from it, but rather to express my difficulties here. It’s the newest movie by director Sion Sono who is one of the favorite sons of Fantastic Fest and also something of a madman with his gorgeously stylized and zany movies. His movie last year, Why Don’t You Play in Hell was one of mine, and most other festival goers’ favorites so I was certainly excited for this one. So now I get the joy of trying to explain this movie to you.
The film itself is based on a popular serialized Manga of the same name and really takes off from there. It is the story of all of the titular Tokyo Tribes, or the gangs that control different regions of Tokyo, and how things go down on one particular night. This night is special though as an ambitious outsider, Sunmi (Nana Seino) arrives with the goal of cleaning up this city, but quickly falling victim to one of the lecherous gang leaders, Mera (Ryuhei Suzuki) and the most despicable crime lord in the city, Buppa (Riki Takeuchi). With the help of the young Yon (Kikoto Sakaguchi) she must escape and warn the tribes that Buppa plans to take them out in an all out war. They get some aid from Kai (Young Dais) and Tera (Ryuta Soto) of the only gang promoting peace in the city, but it will take more than just this small band to stop Buppa’s evil plot.
Yes, that really does sound like a comic book plot as the story originally is, but that doesn’t even cover the best part: It’s a rap musical! You read that right, Sono collected a group of rappers and break dancers to give the move a really credible musical sound as all of the actors on screen are highly skilled with their music. Each different gang and region are a different style of rap and dance and represent their musical preference well and breath great life into the film through it. Few to none of the actors on screen have any prior acting experience in a very bold choice, but it pays off because the focus on the music helps prevent the comic book feel from being lost in an attempt to be too real or serious in a performance.
The performances overall are really good too, with no one taking the subject matter too seriously to hurt that energy. Seino is arguably our main character and brings quite a bit of warmth to the role, whether it be from a friendly air or a moment of serialization with a purpose, and she also kills it in the action as well. Sakaguchi is the youngest member of the cast but he doesn’t let that stop him either as he does some of the most to move the story and see the day, even if he says very little, because he’s always moving and generally kicking ass. Dais and Soto are fine, but mostly best together rather than apart as they are supposed to be the best of friends showing the benefits of peace and happiness, though they fight well when needed. Suzuki really stands out as Mera as he is quite a bit crazed at times with his commitment to hating Kai and his friends for an (until the conclusion) unknown reason, but he adds a lot of the comedy and brings about some of the best fight scenes. Takeuchi is basically the big buddy but also the biggest comic relief as he is like a more mobile Jabba the Hut but to comical extremes as he hedonistically devours flesh and constantly thinks about sex. No one truly stands out with a best performance or any to truly write home about as far as emotional and powerful perfromances. However, they all do a great job in their roles and especially with their rapping and some of the fighting really.
Sono has always been something of a mad genius and that has never been more apparent than in this move. The absurdity and excess are all played the give this world true life and give more believability to these gangs existing, these characters constantly rapping, and this crazy culture that is allowed to persist. The movie is bright and vibrant despite featuring lots of death, depravity, poverty and pain in a way Sono can always bring to the screen and it is just wonderful. The biggest issues though also fall on Sono as some ideas feel less fleshed out and underexecuted and sometimes the pace is slowed too much after the energy of a hilarious rap/murder/dinner at Buppa’s. There needs to be slower moments in any movie, but sometimes it’s left to drag too much and really felt like the time could’ve been used better. As for underexecuted, I’ll just say that there is a scene with a tank and how that is done and what is done with it underwhelmed me and actually left me guessing why it was in there at all. These are little things in an otherwise truly enjoyable movie with great comedy, action and music, but it needs to be mentioned.
Despite some flaws in execution, I can’t think of a movie that better encompassed everything that makes Fantastic Fest great and was a great movie. It’s certainly not for everyone nor is it Sono’s best at all, but it’s also a movie that I would recommend to anyone that has liked other Fantastic Fest movies, any of Sono’s other movies or had any interest in anything that I mentioned in this review. The movie is truly just if you mixed The FP with The Warriors and then focused on rap and it’s wonderful and I can’t wait to see it again.