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Tokyo Tribe
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by Jay Seaver

"The hip-hop musical kung-fu manga adaptation you didn't know you needed."
5 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: Sion Sono has never really been the quiet, contemplative sort of art-house director, but his last few films seem to have been brimming with the sort of constant action that would make genre filmmakers jealous, with "Tokyo Tribe" an almost non-stop barrage of over-the-top insanity once the fighting starts. The surprising thing is that an audience can be somewhat forgiven for not registering that fact, since the veneer on top of it - a busy manga adaptation told as a hip-hop musical - is crazy enough in its way that it may be what the audience remembers.

And that's not exactly unfair. That style has Tokyo Tribe moving forward at a constant fast pace, with jokes and details packed into every corner, more characters than the audience can possibly process, and moments of jaw-dropping insanity that you can almost imagine Sono giggling as he put them into the script for how silly they are (the beatboxing server in the banquet scenes may have been my favorite thing Sono has ever gone for while she was on-screen). There's garish designs, tanks, slapstick, and other over-the-top madness.

What is going on? Well, as narrator MC Show (Shota Sometani) lays it down, every neighborhood in Tokyo is run by a themed gang kept in balance largely by the central Musashino Saru, whose leader Tera (Ryuta Sato) is all about peace and love. Another gang, the Bukuro Wu-ronz, led by Bubba (Riki Takeuchi), is looking to make a move, and by attacking Mera, sets the other gangs at each other's throats, with even Tera's friend Kai (Young Dais) looking to fight despite being hugely outmatched physically by Bubba's son Mera (Ryohei Suzuki). And if that's not enough, there's a kung fu princess (Nana Seino) hiding out in one of the prefectures, and delivering her to her clan for sacrifice would give Bubba the ally he needs to claim all of Tokyo.

It's colorful, bizarre, and sometimes tacky as heck. Sono likely did a fair bit to compact Santa Inoue's manga from nine volumes to two hours, but early on, it seems like he's determined to introduce absolutely every character, and while some of them are quite memorable, it can overload your brain, enough that by the time a story starts shaking out, you almost have to learn the important characters again. And with your brain busy doing that, it may take a bit of time to realize that what the action crew is doing is actually really amazing.

Just marvel at the sheer numbers on-screen during the last half of the movie, which feels like a non-stop rumble, and marvel at the job that action director Toshiro Takuma and action coordinator Akihiko Tusnoda are doing riding herd on them. Then look closer, and the individual melees within are actually good on their own, playing to the characters' personalities and actors' capabilities. Special props should be given to Nana Seino, who establishes Sunmi as just a spunky character the audience figures in over her head before breaking out some eye-poppingly athletic moves, and then careens through the big action scenes with a fierce commitment that puts a lot of her larger male co-stars to shame.

So, okay, you've got plenty of eye candy and great action, what else is missing? Well, obviously, it should be a hip-hop musical, with a fair chunk of the cast made up of Japanese rappers, some of them big J-pop stars, some raw newcomers that Sono found via open auditions. Sono deploys his cast well - he knows that Nana Seino is there to kick ass and Riki Takeunchi is there to chew scenery, and doesn't make them look bad trying to sing - so even though a lot of the movie is sung and danced, nobody seems out of their comfort zone. And the soundtrack is catchy as heck, even for those of us that don't understand a word of Japanese; it's one you'll likely be humming for days (or months) after the movie finishes.

There's a real exhilaration to the film in general, as well, as it is about various factions coming together rather than pulling apart. Like a lot of Sono's best recent films, there's a gigantic heart underneath the frantic violence and chaos, and it's almost sure to send the audience out with a smile on their faces.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27673&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/30/14 19:08:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  23-Oct-2015

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Australia
  23-Oct-2015




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