Overview: Chaos erupts between the biggest gangs in Tokyo when an act of vengeance kickstarts a hyper-violent war. Django Film; 2015; Unrated; 116 Minutes.
A Sigh of Disinterest: Last year, I gave director Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play In Hell? a glowing review, praising its use of exaggerated absurdity as a meta-textual critique of cinematic realism. His latest film, Tokyo Tribe, has all the absurdity with none of the subtext. Silliness for the sake of silliness has plenty of merit, but here it feels almost obligatory. Its fits of absurdist passion come with a bored shrug rather than Why Don’t You Play In Hell?’s irresistibly manic grin. Tokyo Tribe wants to be a vibrant, crazed epic. It even looks like one, if you’re not paying too close attention. In truth, it’s dead behind the eyes. It wants to ride on the promise of its premise, being a Japanese rap-musical version of The Warriors, but it doesn’t put the work into fulfilling that promise, and it’s hard to feel anything for a film that feels so little for itself.
Think Of The Children: More than anything, Tokyo Tribe is dull. It takes about a half-hour just to introduce all of its central characters, giving each enough time for their own handful of verses before moving onto the next. These disparate elements don’t come together until more than halfway through the film, so it feels messy in a sophomoric way. And that’s not the only way that the film feels juvenile. It has a preteen’s ideal of masculinity; even the gang of ostensible good guys drop a “no-homo” in their introductory verse, and the film is soured by a general contempt for women. Even its leaps into absurdism are characterized by a childish “lol-so-random,” sense of humor, rather than the more nuanced gags I’d come to expect from Sono. Even the things that are funny in isolation, see a central character picking a lock via breakdancing, are drained of humor by the surrounding material.
Oh Well: Tokyo Tribe doesn’t care what you think of it. I would tend to consider that a virtue in any film, but here it manifests as less admirable and more lazy, and director Sion Sono isn’t even trying. It knows that some people will be delighted by it regardless, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying this film for what it is. Perhaps I’m even being unfair, coming in with expectations formed by Sono’s prior work. That being said, I cannot pretend that this film worked for me. A lot of the music is great, and a few of the jokes land, but it wasn’t enough to save a lackluster production.
Overall: Tokyo Tribe succeeds only in miniscule bursts, which do little to break up its monotonous and uninspired absurdity.