EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a capsule review. The full review will be released once the film hits theatres.
Tokyo Tribe should be a ridiculous, gleeful spectacle, and for one wonderful minute, it is. Shion Sono opens the film with an amazing tracking shot through the neon-lit hip-hop hellscape that the movie is set in. You don’t want to pay attention to the subtitles, because there’s just so much to take in. The production design is a dazzling flurry of gleaming light and color that Sono gets you high off of in one sweeping take. In this dystopian world, an earthquake-ravaged neo-Tokyo has been divvied up by street gangs, who speak in verse as they vie for dominion over the city. It’s The Warriors by way of Escape from L.A., written as a musical. This should be AWESOME.
But what starts as an energetic celebration of hip-hop quickly devolves into a tribute to hip-hop misogyny. In adopting the look and worldview of a music video, the film understands women purely on a glandular level. They’re here to be ogled, fought over, and devoured (sexually, or literally) by the male characters, or to cover up ham-fisted storytelling with titillation. The only female characters of any consequence are hyper-sexual jerkoff fantasies, or demeaned by Sono’s leering camera.
There’s so much to love about Tokyo Tribe: there’s a baseball bat-wielding shogun, who drives a CG tank. There’s this ten year-old kid in a polo who does most of the ass-kicking through the film, and this one girl who’s a hilarious beat-boxing master. At one point, the bad guy reveals he has a hidden wall-sized garburator inside his lair, and one dude has a cell phone that looks like a jewel-encrusted Desert Eagle. If you can rationalize the film’s sub-skeezy sexual politics as being a nod to the exploitation flicks that influenced it, or a satire of hip-hop’s gender issues themselves (which a final reveal tries to do, too little, too late), you’ll have a great time. If you can’t, like I couldn’t, you’ll just be shaking your head for all 104 minutes following that first glorious one, as Tokyo Tribe’s cancerous sexism saps most of the fun out of something that should be a pure joy.
Tokyo Tribe executes a wonderful idea with wild daring, amazing production values and enough rampant sexism to pretty much spoil the whole thing.