The term “only in Japan” is banded around for everything from torture porn game shows to cuddy robot seals in old people’s homes to tentacle based cartoon horror so it is no wonder that when it came to producing the world’s first ultra-violent battle rap manga adaption musical the land of the rising sun would be the ones to do it.
Based on Santa Inoue popular series Tokyo Tribe 2 written and directed by Sion Sono Tokyo Tribe is a crazed blend of gang movie madness, OTT action, graphic gore, catchy hip hop tunes and visual excess that is unlike anything you will have ever seen.
Narrated direct to camera in rhyme by one of the many MC’s that make up the cast featuring Japan’s leading hip-hop talent we are taken into the neon filth ridded futuristic streets of a dystopian Tokyo where a wild variety of gangs rule each of the territories, constantly battling with fists and lyrics over turf, all that is except the Musashino lead by Kai (Young Dais) who live purely for peace and parties.
One gang however has its sights on dominating all the others, the evil Wu-Ronz in Bukuro led by sadistic cannibal Lord Buppa (Dead or Alive star Riki Takeuchi) who along with his two sons the weird and warped Nkoi (Yosuke Kubozuka) and the bloodthirsty blond body builder Mera (Ryohei Suzuki) are cooking up a plan to take over all the Tokyo Tribes.
With Mera obsessed with killing Kai, the multitude of gangs on red alert and tensions reaching boiling point an all-out war is imminent. Will Buppa succeed? Can Kai bring everyone together to fight the true villain’s? Who are the mysterious Kung Fu assassin duo who just entered Japan? And where does the secretive martial arts mistress Sunmi (Nana Seino) who has been kidnapped and forced into prostitution fit in to all this chaos?
All the questions erupt into an all-out battle royale over some fat bass booming beats as Tokyo Tribe reaches its mad and magnificent climax containing a tank, an earthquake, a Gatling gun, a black mass and a multi-blade filled turbine among many other insane ideas and eye popping visuals that simply sum up the eclectic and anarchic ethos of the entire movie.
A film that has to be seen to be believed what blows your mind while watching Tokyo Tribe is its excessiveness that takes each component and turns it up to 11 from the scale, the colors, the nudity and violence to the amazing set design and panto performances especially from Riki Takeuchi as he snarls and sneers like a blend of Elvis and a demonic flesh eating yakuza boss.
Taking cues from the ton of sexist exploitative and offensive rap videos that have slowly upped the ante in controversial content over the years there is much in Tokyo Tribe that many may find offensive however the hyper stylization and tongue in cheek tone keep the film just the right side of entertaining rather than insulting.
Referencing everything from Scarface to Clockwork Orange to The Warriors to Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo in its sets and set up Sion Sono frequently employs a free roving camera that glides over and above the epic environments letting us drink in every element as the massive cast fight, frolic, run and rap freely within the scenes giving it simultaneously the feel of a improvised stage musical and a frantic fever dream.
With a whole host of Manga and Anime adaptations rumored to be on the way including Ghost in the Shell and Akira, Hollywood has failed again and again when it comes to bringing Japanese popular classics to the screen with Mark Hamill’s The Guyver, Fist of the North Star with Malcolm McDowell, the terrible Dragon Ball: Evolution and Spike Lee’s offensive and pointless OldBoy remake among their awful abortive attempts proving America should leave these brilliant stories to someone who truly understands them as Sion Sono obviously does.
That said an American remake of Tokyo Tribe staring the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, Cypress Hill, Odd Future and more would be a perfect fit as long as it retained all the insane and extreme elements of this highly original and brilliant movie.