The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"TOKYO TRIBE"

Tokyo Tribe

Trying to review Tokyo Tribe makes me feel like Bill Hader's Saturday Night Live character Stefon. If you like crazy Fantastic Fest-approved Asian cinema, have I got a film for you! This movie has everything: hip-hop music, Asian street gangs, penis size comparisons, human furniture, a gangster who uses a Fleshlight, a giant saw blade that chops people up... It takes a certain kind of brilliance (or madness) to come up with something as loony as this picture. And while there's a certain hypnotic appeal to Tokyo Tribe, the quality that makes it most interesting simply isn't enough to sustain a nearly two-hour running time.

Directed by Sion Sono (Cold Fish), the movie takes place in a futuristic Japan. Every region has its own street gang, and for the most part, they stay out of each other's way. Then the leader of one gang decides that he doesn't want to abide by territorial lines anymore and begins a reign of terror. The rest of the tribes realize they have to band together to protect themselves.

That's a pretty straightforward story. What makes Tokyo Tribe unusual is the way the story is told. The entire movie is done in rap verse. There's an almost-constant hip-hop beat on the soundtrack, and the characters rap the majority of their dialogue. This style is mashed together with flashy editing, intricate martial arts fights, and a healthy amount of bawdy humor to create something new and original.

A sense of audaciousness is the chief selling point of Tokyo Tribe. Sono stages complex sequences involving dozens of people onscreen simultaneously, sometimes in very long, unbroken shots. There's dancing and fighting and rapping all going on at the same time. Sono's camera is often on the move, careening from one thing to the next at a breathless pace. The sheer novelty of this approach gives Tokyo Tribe a certain curious appeal. Guaranteed, you've never seen anything quite like it.

However, that same uniqueness ends up being the movie's Achille's heel. It's a novelty, and the novelty runs dry long before Tokyo Tribe is over. That's because there's nothing really happening here except for the execution of the novelty. The individual characters are nondescript, making it hard to tell who's who. None of them are especially distinguishable. Thin plotting does the film no favors. Tokyo Tribe plays more like a series of music videos with a common theme than a three-act story you can get wrapped up in. Because of this issue, the movie starts to feel heavily repetitive, eventually wearing out its welcome at about the halfway mark.

Tokyo Tribe certainly earns points for invention. It's fun for a little while. For a novelty concept to work, though, there needs to be more substance than Sono provides here. This movie could have been really amazing; in the end, it's not much more than a brilliant idea unsatisfyingly executed.

( out of four)


Tokyo Tribe is unrated, but contains adult language, nudity, and extreme violence. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.


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