Nov 29

“TokyoTribe” – Film Review from the 18th Japanese Film Festival (Australia and New Zealand)


Rafael Villadiego (Nagasaki-ken 2010-2013) writes for Green Tea Grafitti and reviews Tokyo Tribe.

Tokyo Tribe

Rap battles with actual battle

In a dystopian, not-so-distant-future Tokyo that has fallen into urban decay, young thugs rule the streets and the disparate districts have been divided between the various gangs that hold sway over their respective neighbourhoods. There is an uneasy alliance between these tribes as long as each adheres to the unspoken truce of keeping out of each others’ allocated territory.

But none of the tribes are entirely satisfied with maintaining the status quo and are chomping at the bit to prove their superiority and expand their sphere of influence.

All this teetering tinder box needs is a spark to push it completely off the edge and set the entire thing on fire.

Enter Mera (Suzuki Ryohei), leader of the ‘Bukuro Wu-Ronz, who is seeking to finally settle an old score with the Musashino Saru’s, Kai (rapper Young Dais). Mix in the insane Yakuza boss Big Buppa (Takeuchi Riki) and the kung-fu kicking virginal daughter of an international crime lord, Sunmi (Seino Nana), and you have all the ingredients for one unforgettable night through the myriad maze of this doomed metropolis, where all the simmering tribal rivalries are finally set to boil over.

Who will win the war for the streets of Tokyo? Plug in the speakers, pump up the volume and strap in for one epic ride.

The inimitable Sono Sion is back with a hybrid hip-hop, musical, gangster battle epic that defies easy categorisation or description. Over-the-top to the point of parody, this film will either provide an entertainingly rollicking departure from standard cinema fare, or turn viewers off entirely. Replete with a mish-mash of genre cliches and tongue-in-cheek references to classic Hollywood and Japanese cinema. In short, it is exactly what the seemingly ludicrous blurb of the film promised. Yet some people still had the audacity to get-up and leave – obviously not realising just what they had signed up for.

Our guide to the evening’s festivities is MC SHOW (embodied by Sion Sono alum Sometani Shota) who sets the stage for this sprawling rap narrative in what is shapes up to be one heck of a ride through an alternate Tokyo where gangs rule the streets and anything goes. The only rule is that you don’t cross into another gang’s turf. But this turns out to be the night when rules are meant to be broken, which just might ignite an all-out war that will set the streets of Tokyo alight.

The storyline is paper-thin, but the narrative is carried forward on sheer energy, lyrical verve and musical drive. With references to old-school yakuza gangster flicks, Broadway musicals and underground “pinku” cinema, the film offers a veritable smorgasbord of z-grade schlock and kitschy action extravagance. Populated by a veritable who’s-who of old-school Japanese hip-hop and rap royalty, led by Young Dais, the majority of roles are filled by street-level, non-actors ranging from tattoo artists to stunt performers. Despite lacking requisite thespian credentials, they are instead fully versed in the world Sion is attempting to create, lending an air of authenticity to the work and lyrical legitimacy to the rhymes.

The lyrics themselves range from street-level swagger to the scintillatingly surreal, to the downright hilarious. Are these wannabe posers or veterans so far above the game they are willing to poke fun at their own expense? There are moments when one cannot be entirely certain. But it is clear that these indisputable artists are fully committed to the cause and believe unequivocally in the unfolding struggle.

There are some mind-boggling action sequences drenched in veritable buckets of blood all captured in sweeping single-take shots that fully immerse you in this sprawling epic. It certainly reaches a point where style and artifice well and truly rule over any form of substance. So if you are looking for a deeper statement on the human condition or an underlying message amidst all this madness, you may find yourself disappointed.

But if you are happy to check your brain at the door and fully immerse yourself in Sion Sono’s insane symphony, then plug yourself in and raise your fists high as you cheer on the love and peace of the Musashino Saru in their struggle to prevail against the all-out-mayhem declared by the warlike Waru.

At the close of the film, we eventually discover the idiosyncratically innocuous circumstance that set the entire war in motion, and you will either laugh or cry – or more than likely, both.

Watch this film if…
…you are hankering for rap infused, hip-hop action epic through the streets of Tokyo…


“Tokyo Tribe” (Tokyo Toraibu) was released August 30 2014 in Japan, starring Suzuki Ryohei, Young Dais, Seino Nana, Sato Ryuta, Kubozuka Yousuke, Takeuchi Riki, Sometani Shota.

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