TOKYO TRIBE

(XLRATOR MEDIA/NIKKATSU/FROM FIRST PRODUCTION COMPANY/DJANGO FILM (117 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

TOKYO TRIBE

It is an absolutely inexplicable concept that I would even remotely enjoy a musical movie version of a violent piece of Manga (TOKYO TRIBE 2 by Santa Inoue) about rival gangs on the mean streets of Tokyo, especially one that involves reading… a lot of reading. Buuut… the music is a very appealing mish-mash of Hip-Hop grooves and rock heaviness; the characters are SO over the top that you are allowed to suspend all belief and just let the kaleidoscopic visuals – including some amazingly choreographed fight scenes, including near-comedic levels of ultra-violent acts – assault your optic nerves… in the best way possible. Yeah, sure the whole reading thing is there but, once you get into a groove with that, TOKYO TRIBE isn’t too bad.

TOKYO TRIBE (Makoto Sakaguchi, Nana Seino) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Makoto Sakaguchi, Nana Seino) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Actually, aside from trying to figure out who was who, the flick, written and directed by the legendary Sion Sono, was pretty cool. The whole thing kicks off in a claustrophobic Bukuro Street on a hot Tokyo night that threatens not only rain, but an earthquake, as well. The narrator (played by Shota Sometani, who delivers all of his lines through raps) moves ghost-like through the throngs, introducing us to the various factions and their leaders, all the while giving us a glimpse into a very grim future. In one telling scene early in the movie, a rookie police officer is told by her partner not to get involved in what is very obviously a drug dealer dispensing his wares; when she confronts the dealer, he tears her clothes off, belittles her and, eventually, kills her. Her partner tells the police dispatcher that everything is okay… nothing going on. According to the raps, there are 23 separate tribes in the city, each working their own territory in an effort to maintain a tenuous treaty; that treaty is threatened by the Buppa gang, a violent and blood-thirsty tribe who want it all.

TOKYO TRIBE (Riki Takeuchi) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Riki Takeuchi) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

The Buppa leader, played by Riki Takeuchi, is cartoonish, a demented and crazy-eyed Wayne Newton look-alike. Bubba’s lusts and desires are fueled by the promise of total power from the High Priest Denden (played by Sion Sono mainstay Denden, the High Priest is either a guiding spirit or one of Bubba’s drug-induced hallucinations); all he has to do is return the High Priest’s daughter, Ericka. One of Bubba’s sons, Nkoi (Yosuke Kubozuka), is a sexual deviant who delights in using his victims as furniture… after, of course, they have outlived their usefulness as prostitutes; he sends a van of thugs to procure a few new chairs and end tables into another tribe’s territory, either convincing them to come to a wild party or flat-out kidnapping them. The other son, Merra (Ryohei Suzuki), is more into inflicting as pain on as many people as possible; he has some unstated beef with the leader of Musashiro Tribe, Kai Deguchi (Young Dais), who practices and preaches love, peace and understanding. Basically, all of the ensuing carnage is due to whatever problem Merra has with Kai (don’t worry… we do find out what has him so upset during the climactic battle and, if I may be so bold, it perfectly personifies the gangsta rap culture and gangs, in general). Oh, plus, Nkoi snatches the High Priest’s daughter (Nana Seino) off the street and tosses her into the Buppa brothel, setting off a completely different type of mayhem: When her picture is posted on the brothel’s website, a particularly horny member of Musashiro is off to partake, with Tera (Ryuta Sato), who is respected by all factions, attempting to stop him and, as that has failed, to keep him out of any serious trouble.

TOKYO TRIBE (Denden) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Denden) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Unbeknownst to either, a trap has been set and, when Kai and the others learn of it, love and peace are out the window. Unfortunately, with 21 other tribes mobilizing, the path is neither easy nor safe. Eventually – because everybody knew it was going to happen – all of the rival gangs come together against Bubba and his hired guns, the Waru, the most vicious gang in all of Japan. The fights are wickedly fun, the choreography and staging wildly imaginative; there are tanks, cannibals, gold-plated pistols, human reading lamps, samurais, earthquakes, giant exhaust fans and… well, you get the idea. There’s even a wizened old waitress, called DJ Grandma (Hisako Ooka), spinning and rapping her doomsday commentary: “Comin’ to ya from the ass-end of Hell/Listen up. This is Hip-Hop!” There is so much that I want to tell you about TOKYO TRIBE, but if I give you any more, I’ll spoil all the fun you have in store when you watch it.

TOKYO TRIBE (Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Even though there are going to be plenty of kids sixteen and younger that are gonna wanna see this movie, be advised that it – like all of Sono’s previous films – is ultra-violent (generally, in a cartoon fashion but, there are still some fairly brutal scenes) and features quite a few scenes glorifying drug use and even more that objectify young women (though there are also several instances of those young women taking control of their situations and kicking major amounts of butt). Parents, even the trailer is too wild for us to post here so, at the very least, check that out before you decide to let your kids watch.


BEYOND THE TROPHY

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/NEW FILMS INTERNATIONAL (99 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

BEYOND THE TROPHY

BEYOND THE TROPHY is certainly an enjoyable roller coaster ride of a flick, kinda like GOODFELLAS or THE GODFATHER filtered through that bizarre Woody Allen mockumentary, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (the TV show, not that stupid movie). Okay… I know that may make the movie sound like an inept free-for-all, with good-intentioned “bad guys” and imbecilic and boorishly corrupt police and, yeah, there is a bit of that going on but, I think it’s more of the general vibe of the film than an actual plot description (although, at one point, one of the characters does say, “I’m told that you have an offer that I cannot refuse”). It is, I suppose, a cautionary tale about power and how far a man will go to obtain that elusive “trophy.”

BEYOND THE TROPHY (Michael Madsen) (publicity still)

BEYOND THE TROPHY (Michael Madsen) (publicity still)

The story begins at the end, with the narrator (Cole Lambert, greasily played by Michael Madsen, the kingpin of the Los Angeles mob) explaining that the little scenario was actually set in motion seven months earlier. Flash back those seven months and, after he introduces himself and his chief rivalas, Lambert intones, “Hey, welcome to Los Angeles, gangster capitol of the Western world. And, I can prove it. Alright, so this is what happened, best as I remember it. This is based on actual events, so… the names and identities have all been changed… to protect the guilty, to protect the innocent or, to protect me.” And so begins the chronicle of a seven month downward spiral of a good cop slowly going bad.

BEYOND THE TROPHY (Stephen Cloud) (publicity still)

BEYOND THE TROPHY (Stephen Cloud) (publicity still)

What follows is a confounding, semi-circular tale of lies, deceit, shady business dealings, gangsters (Lambert’s LA faction and a Las Vegas faction run by Gino, played by Robert Miano), mobsters (of the Russian and Cuban varieties), crooked cops, young idealistic cops, undercover cops, strippers, underage strippers, undercover strippers, car chases, shoot outs and – most confusing of all – cops double-crossing other cops who are busy double-crossing the bad guys who are double-crossing the cops so that they can double-cross the other bad guys who are double-crossing… I think you get the idea. You gotta have uninterrupted time (a little over 90 minutes) to watch BEYOND THE TROPHY or you will never be able to keep all of the underhanded dealings straight in your head. Situations and partners change so quickly that even the slightest distraction will have you lost in the nether-regions of some obscure sub-plot. But, then, that’s half the fun of watching. Most of the characters are so sleazy, you may spend some gray matter thinking up a cool demise for each.

BEYOND THE TROPHY (Stephen Cloud and Michael Masini) (publicity still)

BEYOND THE TROPHY (Stephen Cloud and Michael Masini) (publicity still)

As undercover police officers Danny (Michael Masini) and Terry (Stephen Cloud) are outed to their crime “bosses,” Gino and Cole are forced to team up, taking down the Russian mob czar and several of their own double-dealing underlings in an attempt to get at the cops. In the middle of all of this is Gino’s one true love, Angela (Ali Costello), who he presents to Danny in an effort to get the semi-crooked cop to tip his hand. Of course, as is often the case, Angela and Danny fall for each other, effectively adding another double-cross to the double-cross attempted by Gino. The Russian mob, having been infiltrated by Terry (he’s married to the bosses niece) and Officer Chastity Bachman (Brooke Newton), the daughter of Detective Sergeant Bachman (Eric Roberts), who may or may not be on the take for one or more of the criminal elements involved. By the end of the movie, there is one man left standing, with a surprise ending that – given the backstabbing throughout – no one will see coming (at least, I didn’t).

BEYOND THE TROPHY (Eric Roberts) (publicity still)

BEYOND THE TROPHY (Eric Roberts) (publicity still)

Bottom line for BEYOND THE TROPHY: I wasn’t sure after the first 10 minutes or so if I would even make it through the whole thing. However, I stuck with it and glad I did. The story is an ingenious take on the gangster genre and is thoroughly entertaining. Just don’t get distracted while you’re watching!