Played out amongst a neon-strewn shanty town in an alternate, post-apocalyptic Japan populated by opposing street gangs (who all resemble American Apparel models), the brutal Wu-Ronz tribe and Buppa clan form an alliance to forge all-out war on good-natured misfits Musashino Saru. Though there are smatterings of traditional dialogue exchanges, the majority of the film is delivered in the form of musical rap, with the actors spitting out chunks of exposition and plot points as if their lives depended on it. This idea is initially quite endearing, and it’s difficult not to crack a smile every time an MC appears out of nowhere, spinning his decks. The novelty soon wears pretty thin however, and the frenetic pacing and piercing soundtrack quickly batters you into submission. While the film feels like the work of a young filmmaker still in the throes of adolescence, it’s actually from fifty-something director Shion Sono, whose large body of work previous to this suggests he’s regressed quite a bit. Some of the humour is especially groan-inducing and dated, although cultural differences may account for this.
Despite its issues, Tokyo Tribe isn’t quite a total write-off. That exuberance and desire to entertain is most explicit in the casting of Riki Takeuchi as yakuza boss Big Buppa. He’s utterly fanatic, giving a completely unhinged, dementedly bug-eyed turn, even if he looks like he’s wandered in from another film. That confluence of US and Japanese culture does make for some intriguing clashes in style, but the increasing mishmash of Western-influenced cinema (most glaringly The Warriors and Big Trouble in Little China) ends up suffocating much of the originality. It’s the artistic equivalent of biting into what you think is a roll of sushi, only to find it’s been filled with tasteless strips of McDonalds burger meat, and as the end credits roll, that feeling of been bludgeoned with the narrative device instead of being dazzled by it is hard to shake.