A film review: The swagger of 'Tokyo Tribe' is second to none!

Origin: Japan · Language: Japanese, English
Director & writer: Sono Sion
Release: August 30, 2014 · Genres: Musical, crime, comedy

Casts: YOUNG DAIS, Ryohei Suzuki, Nana Seino,
Riki Takeuchi, Shota Sometani

More info: IMDb

Happy new year, my fellow readers (if there are any)!

Um, yes. That's about it. I know I'm draggy when I type things, but I don't know how to cheese it up. It's amazing how people are able to pull off that shit. Really!

Okay, moving on to my very first review of the year.

I first heard of Tokyo Tribe / TT from a local entertainment/comics magazine, at a time where I think everything hyped in that magazine is a must-catch; however, that was a very, very long time ago when only its manga existed. So far, they were right about Kill Bill being awesome (and as I am writing right now about that magazine that introduced me to Kill Bill, I just realised that this film actually references the movie... er, I mean... references Kill Bill's reference!). But somehow, I never bothered to read the manga, since I was put off by the manga-ka's drawing style and the seriousness of the plot that just doesn't add up after a glimpse of it. Its front cover managed to fool me, alright.

Then, I previewed the first episode of its anime series. It looks nothing like the manga at all; the art style is way better, and borrow heavy cues from the hip-hop culture. Reminds me of good old Samurai Champloo a bit, but the hip-hop influence made more sense in TT's anime series.

Enter 2014. Outta nowhere, some dude named Sono Sion, the director of that 4-hour long film Love Exposure (which I have yet to watch, but is in my list nonetheless) decided to adapt the manganime to a live-action film format. But instead of a straight gangster approach like its source materials, Sono-san instead fully embraced all things hip-hop by making this a feature-length, literal rap battle between the conflicting tribes. You read that right; it's a musical gangster film! Take that, Tim Burton and your musical horror! Sono-san right here is the REAL DJ! Hit it!

TT follows Kai (YOUNG DAIS) as he unites a fictionalised Tokyo inhabited by the titular Tokyo Tribes from getting obliterated by Merra (Ryohei Suzuki) in the pursuit to rule all of the gangs with the help of an equally sadistic gangster Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) after a man respected by members of the entire Tokyo Tribes was accidentally murdered instead of Kai.

If anything, since the plot revolves around an assortment of gangs with their own distinct motifs, it straight away reminded me of the cult Walter Hill classic The Warriors. But, personally, after I've watched TT, it made me realise that the gangs in The Warriors are pure gimmick; they got NOTHING on the gangs in TT! In my opinion, the gangs in TT are even more fleshed out than The Warriors. Mise-en-scene wise, TT's Tokyo is depicted as very dense and colourful; it totally gives the audience the feel that TT's universe is 'self-made' that are full of creatively graffiti-vandalised walls and weird D.I.Y.-ish props (including the 'Fuck da World' globe depicted in the poster which is an obvious homage to Scarface) beautifully captured through Birdman-ish camerawork. All of these visual cues are telling us that the gangs literally 'ruled' Tokyo as the police themselves did not dare to interfere with any of their affairs, as seen in the film's provocative opening that shows a rookie policewoman failure of capturing Merra, where she is instead apprehended by him. Sono-san then took the chance to 'grab' our attention (it's a rather lewd reference; you HAVE to watch it to know what I mean), as our eyes are focused on the poor rookie cop who is used by Merra to introduce the main gangs in the film along with their backstory and motto. This is something that The Warriors never got the chance to do until the release of its video game adaptation many years later.

I really have to applaud Sono-san for his decision to only use hip-hop for the entirety of the film and make every stereotype associated with the hip-hop movement a literal embodiment (the ghetto, the four elements of hip-hop, the bewbs), by visualising Lil' Wayne-ish, Snoop Dogg-ish, and gangsta rap sensibilities in the form of many of its eccentric characters, extras, and environments. These amount to rap verses delivered throughout 90% of the film on tightly produced beats, with the cast being actual local rappers AND non-rappers who killed some mad bars (including the very cute Nana Seino and the film's narrator Shota Sometani!)! Also, there are none of the neatly choreographed movements by the cast members either; everyone is doing their own thing, since the gangster world is a messy one, so who cares about choreography and synchronisation (maybe except for the gang chants and taunts)! Oh, and I really mean it when I say that the filmmakers takes the term 'rap battle' seriously; the thugs actually rap AND damage the heck outta each other at the same time!

Additionally, given its source materials, you can definitely expect to see some over-the-top fighting sequences, colourful characters, LOTS of fan service, and typical Japanese manganime nonsense on display!

Okay, I guess that's enough Japanese shit for now. Just when I thought they couldn't get any crazier, Sono Sion came up with this one-of-a-kind gangster experience. Maybe HE should be directing The Warrior's remake AND a Devil May Cry / DMC adaptation for Hollywood, since I know that only Japanese like Sono-san could pull off some of the craziest fight scenes involving guns as seen in one of the scenes in TT. For the former though, should Hollywood is dumb enough to still go forward with a Warrior remake, I hope Sono-san can control his creative jizz when directing its fight scenes, if you catch my drift. This is a very unique spin on musicals in my book. If you like gangsters, rap music, AND specifically the gangsta rap subgenre of rap music, please watch this! Highly recommended!

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