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If you have been craving a Japanese gangland hip-hop musical then you are in luck because Tokyo Tribe is the movie that fills that specific niche for you!
In the near future the district of Bukuro is a lawless ghetto dominated by various gangs with the police refusing to commit forces to the area. Over the course of one night the tensions between all the gangs come to a head when the crime lord Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) demands his forces find a girl, Sunmi (Nana Seino), who escaped his brothels in the district as he prepares to make his power play to take over Bukuro.
Toyko Tribe is based on a Manga series by Santa Inoue and was directed by Sion Sono as he tries to make his version of The Warriors and A Clockwork Orange. The movie’s best features are the visuals. The cinematography by Daisuke Sôma had a constant flow to it with the opening shot of the movie being a continuous shot showing the world of the ghetto. The camerawork is fluid throughout as the scenes follow characters in action and explores the slums. The art direction is of a high standard, having some sort of color even in the most squalled conditions, using bright lighting, neon lighting and embracing the more gordy aspects of hip-hop culture.
The movie is accepting of its B-Movie genre credentials, having people with katanas, gold suits, gatling guns and a blinged out tank. One of the most striking set pieces is the ‘furniture room’, a red room where one man sadistically uses naked people painted white as well as furniture: the frame resembles the opening shot of A Clockwork Orange. There are some sets that do look cheap, but most of the movie is visually impressive.
Sono deliberately makes a flashy movie, using brightly colored title cards to show the names of the various gangs, the time period and locations. But when it comes to the CGI it is on the level of an Asylum movie: it was really poor for a movie to be released in 2015. Youtube videos have done better and there are stronger movies outside of Hollywood, like Paddington, Monsters and Trollhunters.
Tokyo Tribe also boasts some fight sequences, with Seino getting to show off her action chops, fighting off thugs. A 12-year-old boy is a force to reckoned with, having a fighting style composed of a mix of martial arts and break dancing, he is able to take on men twice his size. He had little characterization, but he was fun to watch. Ryohei Suzuki as Merra was a tank of man, having a big frame and muscles, getting to use katanas and even uses them to fight a man with a baseball bat. There are some big street battle sequences as a large gang invade the Bukuro, ending with a large conflict at the end of the movie. But the editing gets confusing near the end as characters jump from location to location. The final fight is an example of this.
Tokyo Tribe is a musical and it is absolutely terrible on that front. There are some okay beats, but that is all the movie’s music has going for it. The rapping is monotone at best as gangs introduce themselves through songs. It is awful music that fans of hip-hop hate because to them it is bland music and non-fans of the genre will have the same reaction as well all the hip-hop bling and attitude of ‘fuck da world’. Overall, the performances and singing are bland, including Riki Takeuchi’s, but he at least overacts the hell out of his role as the crime lord, mumbling his lines as if he is Marlon Brando and failing miserably.
Tokyo Tribe is very much lacking in the plot department, having a very flimsy excuse of one. There is a similarity to The Warriors, a small group has to protect themselves from a variety of colorful gangs as they search for safety. Yet, this is a plot that takes over 20 minutes to even get to the start of. It is just filler. While Sono’s direction is solid, his screenwriting leaves a lot to be desired. He was unsure who his main character should be: the movie focused on Sunmei as she is held hostage, but then focuses on a gang who we know little about with one character Kai (Young Dais) setting out to get revenge on Merra. It meanders too much for its simple set up as it looks at characters that we do not know much about despite their introductory raps.
The most unpleasant aspect of Tokyo Tribe is its sexism. Within the first five minutes a sexy young cop walks in the rain dressed more like a stripper then an officer of law. She tries to arrest a drug dealer and ends up getting stripped and threatened for her trouble. It gets worst when Sunmi is held hostage and then threatened to be raped, with Sunmi goading her captives to do so. Numerous women get assaulted during the course of the movie and the leader of the female gang is dressed like a dominatrix. Even though Sunmi is an ass-kicking woman, she is made to wear short skirts and dresses, which results in lots of panty shots and people wanting to yell ‘put some trousers on woman!’
Tokyo Tribe clearly wants to be a Japanese version of The Warriors, but despite some solid action sequences and visuals in a B-movie way, it is best to stick to the American cult classic.