Blu-Review: Tokyo Tribe (Sion Sono, 2014) – Eureka!

by Jason Suzuki

Sono has made his Umbrellas of CherbourgTokyo Tribe is colorful, its vibe informed by the music that constantly runs through its veins. The story information delivered through largely non-stop rap. It’s a story of a turf war much like West Side Story except here there are four different gangs, amped up from the usual two. We have the Gira Gira Girls, the Nerimuthafuckas, the Wu-Ronz, and the Musashino Saru. If we were to isolate two major story lines they would be the Wu-Ronz’ Mera’s plan to kill Dai of the Musashino Saru to create an all out Tokyo turf war and Sunmi’s story, on the run from her murderous father caught up in the center of the gangs. The film drifts though, it tries to play it cool like the backing beats. Our narrator MC is played by Shota Sometani and even though it’s not a major role in the film, a character whose actions don’t affect the narrative, Sometani really stands out as one of the better rappers in the film. His performance and delivery attempting to be the epitome of chill. Not all of our information do we get from MC as to avoid Sometani over-saturation. In a spectacularly uncomfortable moment of misogyny, a knife running up the bare body of a young female cop is used for exposition to relay the four different gangs to the audience.

For those who are not into rap music or at least the type featured in the film, there may be a barrier of entry to the film, but I found the film getting more and more entertaining as it went on, each change of locale showcased explosions of colors and the camerawork of the film is extremely ambitious, the majority of scenes seem to play out in one take. Because he is making a film that is both an action film and a musical the choreography is key, and fast cutting/too much coverage does not lend itself to showcasing the work of the choreography. Another potential barrier of entry might be the film’s treatment of women. For me, this is just the dark side to what happens when you appropriate rap culture. And above all, Sono is both relishing and poking fun of the excesses of hip hop. I don’t want to spoil it but the reveal of why the gangs are fighting seems to be Sono’s final bit of criticism towards the machismo of hip hop. It’s a moment that reduces everything to something absurd and just further proves how fun this movie is.

Going back to the film and its treatment towards women, certain scenes featuring our leading lady Nana Seino seemed to have been lensed by Love Exposure protagonist Yu Honda. I’m talking about the up-skirt. Luckily Seino’s Sunmi has one of the most badass raps in the entire film, which in this film world is more laudable than her martial arts skills. Ryohei Suzuki as Mera and Riki Takeuchi as Buppa make for great villains, Takeuchi’s face fighting to be called the thing that makes you realize this is adapted from a manga. Also Cyborg Kaori has a cameo.

As far as special features go we have a trailer, some deleted scenes, and an hour long making of featurette. There’s not much to the deleted scenes (about 3min worth). I feel like they might have fit into the film but they seem so inconsequential that it would grind against the forward momentum the film is constantly ramping up. The making of video though has a lot of gems to be found. You get to see how they were able to pull off all the amazing long takes the film has, where the actor/non-rappers get coached by the rapper/non-actors. At times the cast has to rap, act, and remember the action choreography at the same time. On top of that do it all in one take. And speaking of the action sequences, thanks to the making of video I learned that the action director for Tokyo Tribe is none other than Tak Sakaguchi under the name Toshiro Takuma whose worked with Sono in a stunt/action choreographer role on previous films. It makes sense the skill in which Sono is able to achieve some of these long takes of action as Sakaguchi seems to have a preference for it (Yakuza Weapon and parts of Mutant Girls Squad).

Tokyo Tribe is ambitious and has the qualities that a modern musical should have while also delivering old school techniques. It’s great that Sono can turn pure fun into cinema just as well as he does drama (The Land of HopeHimizuBe Sure to Share). Sorry to bring up Magic Mike XXL again but both films are in essence meant to be all about the fun but do so at the highest level of technical prowess.

Jason Suzuki is editor to Cinema Adrift.