Tokyo Tribe (2014) Review — I Hope You Like Japanese Rapping

Because that makes up about 80% of the movie. And it is glorious.

As I’ve said in most of my year-end stuff, I don’t do style as substance. The only time I ever accept it is when the product is funny, and you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me that One-Punch Man or Jojo are on the same league as the new Godzilla movie in terms of camp. I’m not really sure what it is about the anime medium that prevents Japan from making successfully funny stuff, because their games tend to have some good laughs and their live-action stuff can get really freaking morbid in terms of humor. Of course, I’m fully aware that Sion Sono is sort of one-of-a-kind amongst Japanese directors. But do you see this trailer for his Esper Dayo adaptation? I sincerely doubt the reveal that you get powers from being hit with gamma rays whilst achieving orgasm would be nearly as funny in anime form.

What I’m getting at is that in terms of the Japanese doing style as substance, something like the live-action Tokyo Tribe adaptation is more my speed. And there’s no getting around the fact that you have to enjoy its quirky humor to get into it because the story and characters are absolute tripe, a stark contrast to Sono’s better crazy films like Love Exposure or Why Don’t You Play In Hell? If you’re not familiar with Tokyo Tribe as a series, welcome to the club because I’ve never read the manga and only watched like six episodes of that now forgotten Madhouse anime adaptation. But you don’t have to worry about that going into the film because a short ways in, it decides to exposition-dump everything the viewer needs to know through a long ten-minute rap sequence given to a naive Japanese policewoman whilst said rappers decide to expose her wet tatas to the world. If that’s not an indication on whether or not you should watch this film, I don’t know what is.

Tokyo Tribe is set in a sort of futuristic Japan where the Ikebukuro streets have evolved far past the childplay seen in Durarara and young prostitutes who can bare-knuckle box you into a coma form their own gangs. And also like Durarara, it’s a little hard to describe the thing because there’s no real main character nor any real story beyond “shit happens”. The closest thing to a main character are three individuals. There’s Kai, the peace-loving leader of the Musashino gang who’s basically Keiichi from Higurashi as a gangster, even wielding a baseball bat as a weapon. Mera, a bleach blond enforcer for the yakuza with an irrational hatred for Kai (especially when the film tells you the reason why). And Sunmi, a mysterious girl with inexplicable karate skills and a habit of taunting her would-be rapists to pop her cherry. But calling these people characters would be incredibly generous, because there’s literally nothing to them other than being nuts. No passion driving them other than “wreck shit up” and a few feelings of inadequacy.

As for the plot, it’s pretty basic stuff whilst simultaneously being a colossal mess. A bunch of Japanese gangs from the Nerimuthafuckaz to the Giri Giri Girls are basically doing whatever they want whenever they want until Sunmi causes some havoc within the yakuza that gets Kai involved. What follows is a series of running around, kicking people in the face, and killing people that shouldn’t have been killed, resulting in an all-out gang war that plays out like a much more violent version of the football scene in The Wanderers. With Japanese people continually rapping what’s happening of course.

So yeah, the film is basically a two-hour version of a Ryogho Narita story, which makes sense considering Sion Sono is basically the live-action film version of the dude, right down to wearing a fedora in public. Unlike Narita though, Sono has no intention of making you care about anything other than this Warriors-like world he’s created, and as I stated before, that sort of approach can only really be judged by how much it made me laugh. And it generally did. From the gangster who has his own version of the Karova Milk bar from A Clockwork Orange to Mera’s incredibly stupid attempts to overcompensate for his small penis, this movie wears its “gangster tribute” label on its sleeve and wears it nicely. Fans of action should be satisfied by what’s on display as well, even though it is a little ridiculous how a little kid can beat up yakuza more than twice his size with no explanation whatsoever. Sunmi’s bad habit of deciding when she can and can’t fight is also pretty ridiculous in of itself, but it’s not like she ever loses her attitude either way so no feminists should be offended by her portrayal. They should be offended regarding every other female’s portrayal.

Make no mistake about it: Tokyo Tribe has no qualms with offending its audience as much as possible, nor does it intend to spin something touching out of said offensiveness. Men dominate this world, violence is how they live, and black people can have small dicks. It’s a film that dispenses with any sort of rational thought for the sole purpose of making the audience laugh, utilizing so many social taboos in the process that Jeff Dunham would be uncomfortable sitting through the thing. Not all of its “fuck the rules” choices work, mind you. It takes about 20 minutes of rapping exposition for the story to really start, and it even does that stupid action movie thing in that every character is a badass and there isn’t a single amount of pathos in the film – something we desperately need to stop thinking is cool because it really isn’t. Also, one of the gangs has access to a tank for some reason, even though no one else does and they only have one tank.

But the finale sort of swallows up those complaints because when the gangs finally do collide in a very updated version of the climax in The Wanderers, it is exploitation at its glorious moment. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you do not laugh at the carnage that’s unleashed once all the pieces are in place, you have no soul. There is absolutely no way Durarara will even come close to matching it in its final cour next month, and that is just another reason why whatever finale it has planned for us couldn’t possibly be worth it. My advice to all you guys is to watch this film instead, and then when Ketsu starts airing, cry at how it’ll never live up to what you have recently seen. Or just watch Why Don’t You Play In Hell, because that’s a much better movie.

Whilst Tokyo Tribe is a bit of a disappointment from a film maker who has been able to mix style with substance in the past, it’s still a fun enough movie that deserves one watch if you can find a copy somewhere and you’re in the mood for simple entertainment. Just remember, if you get offended by anything in it, then you’re playing into the movie’s hand. And when you do, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself…Jonathan (that’s probably not your name, but it was worth it just to call out every person named Jonathan who might read this blog).

2 responses to “Tokyo Tribe (2014) Review — I Hope You Like Japanese Rapping

  1. I was evasive of this one largely because the anime for it wasn’t very memorable, it was never good, never poor but never once did it stick out for me nor will I be remembering it. I still need to see more sono films. Why don’t you play in hell started off weak but I felt the dark humour and glorious final stretch really made up for that.
    Strange circus had the best cinematography of his work that I’ve seen and suicide clubs opening scene and weird narrative made it enjoyable.
    His most accomplished work I think was love exposure, I was especially surprised how well he managed the 4 hour runtime too and I had alot of different feelings while watching it.
    I wasn’t too into himizu though or cold fish however.
    Guilty of romance went particularly mental near the end so that got my attention at any rate.
    I’m looking forward to watching Noriko’s dinner table, hazard and land of hope sometime, don’t know if they are any good or not though.
    Have you seen sono’s new film Tag/riaru onigoko?

    You can download that here:
    Or if you want to stream it:

  2. Damn, my comment didn’t go through. Trying again.
    Have you seen Sono’s new film tag/riaru onigokko
    Its up here to download:
    Here to stream:
    I am a fan of shion sono and I’ve seen all he has done apart from Hazard, land of hope, noriko’s dinner table and tokyo tribe. Although I avoided tokyo tribe due to as you said, the anime being forgettable.

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