In a post-apocalyptic future there is Tokyo, and in Tokyo there are tribes. In the tribes there is the Bukuro, and quasi-leader in Bukuro is Buppa. And on Buppa’s face is a skull tattoo. And on Buppa’s hands are five gold rings. And in Buppa’s hands is a gatling gun. And the gatling gun is stored under the sofa. And the sofa is in a mansion decked in gold. And in the gold mansion lives Nkoi. And Nkoi’s room comprises solely of human furniture. And next to Nkoi’s room are trees made of blades. And next to the tree-blades is a gold dining room. And in the gold dining room is a gold dining table. And round the gold dining table sit Tokyo’s business men. And on the gold dining table rests an emerald flesh-light. And under the flesh-light lies a cigar box. And in the cigar box are severed fingers. Buppa munches on fingers when his stomach rumbles… GOT IT?!
Shion Sono’s has always been one for violent insanity. Approaching TOKYO TRIBE, however, it’s hard to know if this particular madness is baseball bat simple or Japanese shogun culture complex. The various hip-hop gangs of Tokyo live in a violent equilibrium. No trespassing allowed, but if you stick to your own and can talk in rhyme, you should be fine. Danger to the peace is Mera, a quite literally cock-obsessed warlord desperate to prove he is “the biggest”. He has beef with Kai, leader of the laidback Musashino Saru, and is willing to tear down the metropolis to have his way.
“…you will leave TOKYO TRIBE little more than an idyllic splatter mark, pulverised by a blender of pure lunacy…”
Mera, however, is controlled by Buppa, a crazed, debauched crime bacchus, presumably the perverted love-child GoT’s Joffrey and Bowser. He has been tasked by the … well, quite indescribable High Priest of Wong Kong to find his Highness’s virginal daughter, who is loose in the city, and bring her back for a ritual sacrifice. Meanwhile (ok, it probably is complicated) a new tribe called the Waru look set to sweep the streets and crush the various musical clans.
All this is narrated through continuous rap.
As Google will tell you, TOKYO TRIBE is not the first Hip-Hopera. But by god is it the most exhilarating! Sono (previously of WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?) drafts in visual styles from music videos, porn and (most significantly) gaming to imagine what would happen if an apocalyptic WWE rumble was enacted across Japan’s largest city. Lightning fast one-shots propel themselves through bodies, zooming in and out of lights and cars and streets. Characters do damage to one another with samurai swords. Characters do damage to one another with tanks. And that’s just a spring-board! The gratuitous nature of … well everything … creates a mosaic of bizarro hedonism, that together forms a giant middle-finger with a line of coke jaggedly arranged along the spine. Don’t plan much for after TOKYO TRIBE. Like half the characters, you will leave as little more than an idyllic splatter mark, pulverised by a blender of pure lunacy, competing with chewing gum on the cinema floor.
Not everyone will enjoy Sono’s creation. In fact, if you don’t find the idea of a handgun doubling as a mobile phone with Beethoven’s 5th ringtone funny, this isn’t the film for you. But there is something so blindingly, dazzlingly original about the sheer manic nature of this graphic novel adaptation, something so pulsatingly in touch with modern culture gaming aesthetic, that even MAD MAX is made look sober. This may well be the future. In the 60s and 70s, it was DEATH RACE and the Roger Corman golden age of B-movie “exploitation” that eventually “trickled up” to mainstream multiplexes. In TOKYO TRIBE’s arcade arcadium you can glimpse the same rough-cut exhilaration nostalgic critics dustily remember. It’s not perfect – but don’t be surprised if in 10 years Hollywood action looks like this.