Tokyo Tribe

I want you to go get a piece or paper or open the Notes program on your phone and write down two words: Tokyo Tribe. You’re going to want tangible proof you knew about one of the craziest, most surprising, surreal fun films of the year well before anyone else.

Tokyo Tribe is directed by Shion Sono, a director whose films (Love Exposure, Cold Fish) are usually pretty brutal. For the most part, this one isn’t. In fact, it’s the opposite. Tokyo Tribe is a hip hop musical about gang wars in Tokyo filled with sex, action, rapping and more rapping. Think Les Miserables if it were populated by The Warriors, who acted like they were in a kung-fu version of Beat Street, with the visual aesthetic of Spring Breakers. Set in an Eighties. That almost describes Tokyo Tribe, a film I loved to no end.

From the first frame, Sono’s work explodes off the screen thanks in part to the bass thumping score, head bopping raps and constantly moving camera. The first twenty minutes of the movie set up this gang-centric world, introducing all the gangs around Tokyo, their relationships to each other and more. All of this is rapped, as is about 85% of the movie, and when the title card hits, you know you want to see what comes next, but really don’t have any idea what it could be. Actually, you don’t really even know who the main characters are.

Once the film does start to reveal who the main characters are and what the story is, things slow down a little. But only a little. That’s because the film finally settles in on two groups in particular and the rest of the gangs take a back seat. On the plus side, this lets us figure out who is who and what is going on without being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of madness. On the minus side, it takes the energy down from a 10 to an 8.

By the way, I’m not even going to attempt to describe the plot of this film because it doesn’t really make much sense. There are some weird supernatural elements, Clockwork Orange-esque human furniture, guns that double as cell phones, penis envy, beat boxing waitresses, it’s incredibly wacky. But somehow everything kind of clicks because that first 20 minutes really prepared you in for whatever Sono wants to show you.

Finally, when all the elements from the first two acts merge, Tokyo Tribe once again sings, both figuratively and literally. The sex and the action marry with the music, the music marries with the story, the bad guys and good guys finally get to clash and it’s glorious. There’s definitely a gratuitous amout of sex and violence in the film, but it’s mostly handled in such a fashion it doesn’t feel particularly offensive. Plus, it’s hard to be offended when you’re smiling the entire time.

Tokyo Tribe in wholly unique and, without a doubt, the best hip-hop, kung-fu gang musical ever made.

/Film rating: 9 out of 10

Here’s the trailer and review to give you a little more about the film.

Tokyo Tribe poster

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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