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Tokyo Tribe

Monday 4th May 2015

Andrew Osmond on a rap musical, in Japanese. Yes. Thank you. You’re welcome.

Tokyo TribeRepresent! The live-action film of Akira is here… and it’s a rap musical! Okay, we’re kidding, but Tokyo Tribe takes place in a violent fantasy Tokyo of warring gangs, hence the film’s name. It’s based on a manga strip and takes a manically cartoonish approach to its material. Oh, and it’s directed by Sion Sono, a legitimate madman of Japanese cinema, best known in Britain for his four hour – yes, four hour – comedy Love Exposure, about religion and perversion.

Tokyo Tribe really is a rap musical, with only occasional ‘straight’ dialogue, and just about everyone rapping their way through the action – the best is a groovy granny with a talent for record scratching and lyrics like ‘Coming to ya straight from the ass-end of hell!” Interviewed by Sci-Fi Japan, Sono explained the film was about street life, so “I thought it would be more interesting to bring out people from the streets. I looked for rappers in the streets. Then I decided that if I was going to have rappers, it would be better to make them sing.”

Rap and specifically hip hop have a history in Japan spanning thirty years – Wikipedia has a long entry. However, it’s figured only sporadically in the films and anime that have reached Britain. Shinichiro Watanabe paid extensive tribute to hip hop in his period mashup Samurai Champloo, and Rip Slyme defined the spikiness of the horror-action anime Gantz with its title song, “Super Shooter.” A mellower number, “Climbing the Stairs of Quiet Days,” by the group Dragon Ash, played out the film of Battle Royale. Tokyo Tribe’s music is supplied by BCDMG – that’s Big Crow Dog Music Group, a rapper collective.

Sono’s film is set in a Tokyo where the well-known districts – Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro – have become bases for gangs drunk on power and violence, with names to match. For example, the Nerima district now hosts the Nerimanotherf******. The good guys are a hedonistic but peaceful bunch of youngsters in Musashino, a less central city district (and the setting for Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent). However, several of these kids get yanked into a honey-trap by their enemies. During the battle, hero Kai – played by Young Dais, an experienced rapper and neophyte actor – runs into an acrobatic fighting girl called Sunni (Nana Seino), who was kidnapped off the streets just before. But in the way of fantasy fighting girls, there’s more to Sunni than that.

The film plays like a splattery music video, even a pantomime – there’s a jokey reference to Kill Bill in the script, but Tokyo Tribe is several notches crazier. The film was largely set-bound; some scenes were shot in factories, festooned with neon and graffiti. There are topical nods – a gaudy gang lair bears a suspicious resemblance to Kabukicho’s rambunctious ‘Robot Restaurant,’ which we wrote up here. There’s gore, fighting and fanservice – the latter pair go together in the case of Seino’s high-kicking character– with the action compacted into one night and an endless battle at sunrise.

As for the gang set-up, reviewers have compared to the film to a vintage Walter Hill pic, The Warriors (1979), which visualised New York in much the same way without the rap. (Last year’s teen-friendly film Divergent, from the YA novels by Veronica Roth, also had a comparable set-up.) In Japan, Akira is the obvious precedent, though the world of Sono’s film was created in a different manga, Tokyo Tribe by Santa Inoue. It was then expanded in a much longer sequel Tokyo Tribes (aka Tokyo Tribe 2), from which the film’s characters come. The sequel was also animated by the Madhouse studio in 2006.

Of the performers, the most recognisable are the two monster bad guys. Ryohei Suzuki plays the blond mobster Mera, oiled and strutting in a posing pouch, adding an air of Rocky Horror Picture Show. You’re likeliest to have seen Suzuki in HK: Hentai Kamen, where he was also memorably attired, wearing women’s underwear on his face as a mask!

Amazingly though, Suzuki is out-monstered in Tokyo Tribe by Riki Takeuchi, a legend of yakuza cinema who headlined Takashi Miike’s film Dead or Alive. You may have seen him in Battle Royale II: Requiem, where he chewed that disappointing sequel up as the new psycho-teacher (called, er, Riki Takeuchi). In Tokyo Tribe, he takes the grotesquerie up to eleven; his best friend is a dildo (literally), his banquets consist of human meat, and frankly his face is awful enough.

One other face you may recognise is Shota Sometani, or Mr Rinko Kikuchi – he married the Pacific Rim star last December. Sometani played the lead in Shion Sono’s lurid but earnest abused-teen drama Himizu, and in Tokyo Tribes he has the job of MC/narrator, rapping the story in a disaffected monotone and a hoodie. Admittedly Sometani’s rapping hasn’t drawn an ecstatic response from reviewers, especially when he’s surrounded by industry pros.

But hey, this is a Sono film - what did you expect, sanity? The director’s already got two new films coming out in Japan this year, including Love and Peace, about a salaryman and a magic turtle. Check out the trailer here

Tokyo Tribe is showing at the Derby film festival on 7th May, and will be released in select UK cinemas on 22nd May.  A DVD from Eureka Entertainment follows in June.


The Transformers - The Movie Limited Edition, 30th Anniversary Steelbook (2-blu-ray Set + Digital Copy)

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The TRANSFORMERS – THE MOVIE 30th Anniversary Edition featuring the newly remastered movie from a new 4K transfer of original film elements.

The AUTOBOTS, led by the heroic OPTIMUS PRIME, prepare to make a daring attempt to retake their planet from the evil forces of MEGATRON and the DECEPTICONS. Unknown to both sides, a menacing force is heading their way – UNICRON. The only hope of stopping UNICRON lies within the Matrix of Leadership and the AUTOBOT who can rise up and use its power to light their darkest hour. Will the AUTOBOTS be able to save their native planet from destruction or will the DECEPTICONS reign supreme?

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• ‘Til All Are One – A brand-new, comprehensive documentary looking back at TRANSFORMERS: The Movie with members of the cast and crew, including story consultant Flint Dille, cast members Gregg Berger, Neil Ross, Dan Gilvezan, singer/songwriter Stan Bush, composer Vince Dicola and others!
•Audio Commentary with Director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and star Susan Blu
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• Trailers and TV Spots

For the ultimate fans and collectors, The TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE Limited Edition, 30th Anniversary Steelbook comes with highly collectible Steelbook packaging, 2 Blu-ray set of the newly remastered movie (Both aspect ratios), immersive bonus content including brand-new featurettes, plus many more. This is a must-own collection to every fan's library!        



Toshio Hirata 1938-2014

Remembering the anime master who shunned the limelight
Toshio Hirata, who died on 25th August, might be reasonably said to have avoided publicity. Over the course of his career, he did gather a number of credits for directing, as well as storyboards, key animation and lowlier tasks, but he often obscured his own achievements by using the pseudonym Sumiko Chiba. In some cases, such as for his work on Azuki-chan, he simply asked not to be credited at all, claiming that his contribution was not really worthy of recognition.

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Andrew Osmond on anime’s gender gap…
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Christmas is coming soon and our friends at Urban Species have the perfect gifts for any anime fan!

Modern Japan: All That Matters

Andrew Osmond turns an anime eye on a new history book
If the past is truly another country, then Modern Japan: All that Matters suggests the average Japanese youth may be as remote from the land of shogun and samurai as Britain is from today’s Tokyo. Jonathan Clements’ new book is a concise history which focuses on the country’s last seventy years, from Japan’s surrender in 1945 to the present.

Bleach Music: Diggy Mo'

Tom Smith on the hip-hop star of Bleach 13
Forget everything that you think you know about hip hop. Diggy MO’ and his boys at SOUL’d OUT throw the genre on its head.

Psycho-Pass music: Ling Tosite Sigure

Tom Smith finds another band with an unspellable name
Meet Ling tosite sigure. Their name may be confusing to pronounce (for anyone interested, it’s more like ‘rin tosh-teh shi-goo-reh’), but that didn’t holdback Japan’s music-loving community from rushing to their local CD-shops and grabbing a copy of the band’s latest album i’mperfect, out now also in the UK thanks to JPU Records.
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