Review: Tokyo Tribe

2014/10/09 23:29:00 +00:00 | Sean McClannahan

To experience Shion Sono's hyperkinetic hip hop opus, Tokyo Tribe, with a packed crowd all simultaneously engaging on it's chaotic wavelength is like a spiritual ceremony of pure cinematic ecstasy. Harmony and anarchy frenetically assaulting the senses through a dystopian riot. Ambitious gonzo filmmaking and a shot of adrenaline to the soul, this is Sono's Streets Of Fire. Offensive, heartfelt, fantastical and whimsical are all words that perfectly describe this optimistic call to arms in the chaotic shambles of a graffiti drenched turf war. As the chanting echoes of “Tokyo Tribe, never ever die!” drift in harmonic bliss, it was like a hypnotic trance that tightened it's grip and refused to let go.

After a determined youth's vow to bring hope and joy back to the gang-ravaged wasteland where the 23 tribes have broken their peace, a captivating swoop through the madness of this dystopian Tokyo lays the foundation for the feverish tone that casts a spell over this musical tale. A ruthless tribe leader maliciously tears open a policewoman's shirt and draws a map of Tokyo gangland on her exposed torso which is one example of exploitation that permeates throughout the film, but also sheds light on the chauvinist aspects of hip hop culture and is underlined in a very humorous way towards the end of the film.

Mostly all of the exposition is explained through narrative rapping or background visuals to leave focus on the current conflict between rival tribes and not break up the momentum of Sono's frantic visual approach to telling the story. Tokyo Tribe essentially has a very basic storytelling structure that dates all the way back to Shakespeare beneath the surface, but it's the vibrant tone that evokes a transcendent connection with its audience and a great portion of what works with this film is how it moves at a continuous rhythm and flow, much like the music. If that flow were to be interrupted at any moment, it would all come falling apart.

Every character that gets introduced in Tokyo Tribe is compelling and fascinating. It's like they all have their own awesome mythological backstories that Sono barely scratches the surface with. Overseeing the tribes and their fate is the cannibalistic Lord Buppa (Riki Takeuchi), who's like a cross between an 80's videogame boss and an exuberant but comical exploitation baddie, he's merely awaiting the opportunity to wipe out all rival tribes and lay claim to his territory. Tera (Ryuta Sato) and Kai (Young Dais) are on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, as they lead the only tribe that aims for tolerance and unity, rebelling against the nihilistic code that all the other tribes adhere to. Sunmi (Nana Seino) is the ass-kicking virginal daughter of the high priest, who refuses to be a sacrificial pawn to a satanic ritual and serves as the symbolic secret weapon to unite the divided tribes and lead the revolution against Buppa's sadistic schemes. Buppa’s two creepy “sons”: Nkoi (Yosuke Kubozuka) and Mera (Ryohei Suzuki) develop a sleazy infatuation with her and keep her prisoner in their dungeon.

When Sunmi breaks free with her lethal-breakdancing sidekick, Yon (Kikoto Sakaguchi) and unleash fury against Bappu's “Wafu” hoards , all hell breaks loose and earthquakes, Gatling guns, tanks and samurai swords all wreak havoc in glorious cinematic frenzy. The climatic showdown is as balls to the wall insane as you would hope and there's a beacon of hope that ties everything together in an honest way. Sion Sono has crafted more than an entertaining kitchen sink hip hop opera movie extravaganza, he's put together a revolutionary cinematic experience for every enthusiastic moviegoer to share a cinematic feeling that has to be experienced. Tokyo Tribe isn't just a film you watch, it's a film you experience.

Movie Score: 4/5