TOKYO TRIBE – London Film Festival Review
“Coming to you from the ass-end of hell”
It is difficult to find the words to describe Tokyo Tribe. Maybe a more adequate writer would be able to illustrate the chaos that is Sion Sono’s latest movie. Or maybe there are simply no such words in the English language that are able to do the movie justice. However, if the words do exist, the above quote, which is exclaimed by the film’s geriatric emcee, is probably the closest we will get to illustrating the madness of this gangland epic/hip-hop musical.
The sheer fact that the film has a geriatric emcee should tell you that Tokyo Tribe (which is adapted from a manga series by Santa Inoue) is truly an experience like no other. Guaranteed to be a cult classic, Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono has created a movie that is a mix between the Saints Row video games and the martial arts epic The Raid 2.
The film is set over one night that marks the fifth anniversary of rioting that first pit the tribes against one another. During this time, the gangs have stuck to each other’s respective zones, minding their own business. However, the peacetime – well, if you don’t count the nightly brawls that break out in each zone – is about to be shattered over the course of this night and will once again bring violence to the mean Tokyo streets.
As the conflict erupts, the tribes battle not only with weaponry but with words too. The story is told predominantly through hip-hop music numbers with the characters rapping their dialogue for most of Tokyo Tribe’s duration. Sion Sono, therefore, re-envisions the gang warfare between the tribes as something of an anarchic rap battle.
The concept is both hilarious and insane, and Sion Sono throws us into his carnival almost immediately. As the emcee drops her first beat, we follow a hooded youth who guides us through the world of Tokyo Tribe. He begins by presenting the violent world where we will be spending the next two hours (one that is visually not dissimilar to the colourful, busy, steam-punk aesthetics of the video game Borderlands). He also introduces us to the gangs that inhabit this madcap landscape, from the powerful Saru Shibuya (“tougher than the baddest gorilla”) to the ridiculous tracksuit-clad Nerimuthafuckaz (“N-Town doggz baby”).
The hooded youth, we soon learn, is part of yet another one of Tokyo’s gangs: Mussashino Saru, who are opposed to the city’s violence and preach “it’s all about peace and friendship / hip-hop ain’t only dissing”. It is a confrontation between the Mussashino Saru leader Kai and the psychotic Wu-Ronz gang – whose boss Big Daddy is the most feared man of all the tribes and will tonight attempt to gain full control – that causes the volatile relationships to finally tip into full-scale war.
The madness does not stop here. Not by any means. In fact, Tokyo Tribe seems to outdo itself with every new character introduced and every new scenario that plays out. Just when you think the film could not get any stranger, it goes above and beyond. From the Tokyo high priest who is introduced with the line “oh damn, shit, bitch ass yellow, can you hear me you shit for brains crazy motherfuckers?”, to the laugh-out-loud revelation as to why the Wu-Ronz gang has so much hostility towards Mussashino Saru. The sheer overload of insanity that Tokyo Tribe expels with every frame would be exhausting if it wasn’t so deliriously entertaining.
Sion Sono, who has been responsible for other subversive movies like Cold Fish, Love Exposure and last year’s Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, has truly outdone himself with this release. It is perhaps the ultimate midnight movie; an outrageous, crass and moderately offensive attack on every one of the senses that, for better or worse, is unlike anything else you have seen on the big screen.