It's mega-gore silliness from the people behind The Machine Girl
, Tokyo Gore Police
, RoboGeisha and other such absurdities. It's okay, I suppose. The ultra-violence and gore overload starts getting old after a while, but it's not completely neglecting character and occasionally it even made me laugh.
Imagine it as the X-Men. Mankind is sharing the planet with superhuman mutants, called Hiruko. Strangely, almost all of these are played by gravure idols and/or J-pop singers. They're led by a Xavier/Magneto figure (Tak Sakaguchi) and the differences between them and the X-Men are:
(a) X-Men won't spend twenty-odd minutes of screen time indiscriminately butchering every living thing that crosses their path. This will be mostly enemies trying to kill them, but there are a few women, innocents, etc. I can only assume that the directors simply forgot to include children.
(b) Hiruko have self-destruct buttons. I didn't get that bit.
(c) Hiruko have sillier superpowers that involve industrial quantities of rubber, CGI and prosthetics. The three leads (Yumi Sugimoto, Yuko Takayama and Suzuka Morita) aren't the goofiest, even if Morita is Octopus Girl. However the other girls' powers include a chainsaw that grows from her backside and samurai swords that come out of her nipples. Just wait until you see those in a fight scene.
The film's origin was at the 2009 New York Asian Film Festival. These three directors decided to make a film together and they duly made this, with Sakaguchi directing the first part, Iguchi the second and Nishimura the third. About the storyline, there's not much to say. It's not meant to be taken seriously. It's an excuse for the filmmakers to go over the top. We begin with the Mutant Girls tearing to shreds a squad of anti-Hiruko soldiers with helmets that look like Tengu masks. These have long noses that are really machine guns. It's a silly scene, but also confusing because we then launch into an origin story for one of the Mutant Girls, Sugimoto. At the start, she's a suicide risk, being bullied at school. She doesn't know she's a mutant. Half an hour later, though, she's hacked dozens of people into bloody chunks.
This violence goes on and on (and on), but the earlier bullying is nastily well done. The perpetrator is the kind of swaggering monster who's so confident that she rules her world that she'll blithely say "me" when the teacher asks who's bullying Sugimoto. Her motives for being a bitch appear to be simply "ha ha ha".
Part two was my favourite, because in my memory it has the best jokes and doesn't seem to be relying so heavily on non-stop carnage. Iguchi's the only one of these three directors who's just a director, incidentally, with Sakaguchi being principally an actor and Nishimura a special effects man. Sugimoto meets the other freaks (i.e. the fellow Hiruko), wears an iron mask and fights bad guys (i.e. humans). Don't get too comfortable with your Marvel comics morality, though, because Iguchi's got a surprise for you.
Part three is mostly just violence again, with gore that's over the top even for this film. I'm also unconvinced that the explosions make sense.
One mild disappointment is that it's not an X-Men parody. The film's hardly parodic at all, actually, except in an arch way of itself. The superpowers are funny. That I'll admit. Otherwise, though, there's nothing specific here... it's just generalised comic-book handwaving that seems unaware of anything beyond itself. I wanted the character called Kisaragi to be a Cutey Honey reference, but alas no.
Believe it or not, most of the best bits are almost all self-mocking gags of ultra-violence. You don't often see arterial blood-spraying panto, but that's what this is. It's witty, e.g. when tumbleweeds blow past. It knows it's daft and it's not just revelling in the fact, but frequently laughing its head off. Surprisingly often, they'll throw up a silly gag that'll sneak past your defences and make you laugh too. Laughter is contagious. The head walking off on its own is delightful. The fruit machine kill made me giggle. "Oh, sorry," is a hoot. The whole thing's so featherlight and happy (in its way), that it'll frequently hit a sweet spot of inspired comedy and make you laugh with things you hadn't realised could be funny in the first place.
The actors are appropriate. The sixteen-year-old schoolgirls are as convincing as a baby trying to talk its way into a fetish club, of course. It's not just that Yumi Sugimoto's easily five years older than that, but more importantly she's also a beautiful professional model. Schoolgirls, eh? However they have decent chemistry together and they're managing to hit the appropriate tone. We have some fun cameos, including Naoto Takenaka and the great Asami Sugiura as "female samurai with eyepatch". I love Asami. She's been my hero since Sukeban Boy
and it's great that she's retired from hardcore porn to move full-time into acting.
The king of them all, though, is Sakaguchi. My goodness, he's improved beyond measure since he was an underground street fighter who'd landed an acting job in Kitamura's Versus
. He's brilliant! Seriously, he blew me away. He's more vivid than everyone else. He's got star quality, even here as a drag queen who ends up fighting in a thirty-foot-tall costume with his head between two milk-spraying prosthetic breasts. Even when he's evil, he's charming. Look at his facial expressions, or his high-pitched "pow" noises in the finale. That's what it's like to be the best, with so much confidence that you're not afraid to play silly buggers and then so much charisma that it works. I thought the film was only okay, but I'm suddenly a raving fan of Sakaguchi.
I should back-pedal on that praise, I suppose, in case people start taking it too seriously. He's not Olivier. He's a mildly overacting mixed martial artist who's entertaining in this silly film. "Transvestite" is a good look for him, by the way.
I didn't like the stereotyped Chinaman, though. I don't see the point, except as token near-racism because China and Japan don't like each other.
In short, it's okay. I've seen worse. It only drags a bit, sometimes, whereas some of these Japanese gore pantos get downright tedious. It has some great jokes, although you'll need a sick sense of humour to agree with me, and it even has a coherent and reasonably well-structured story under all the surface nonsense. It's padded with fighting and it's being played with an arched eyebrow, but it's there. Sugimoto gets a character arc. One could even call this a girl power film, with almost all the characters being female and very little conventional exploitation. There's a scary topless Frankenstein girl and a hint of homoeroticism near the end, but that's it. An odd thing about this silly Japanese genre is that despite its close links with porn and pink films, its protagonists are overwhelmingly female and there's often no nudity or sexual content at all.
If nothing else, I'm glad I got another look at Sakaguchi.
"My wife is a baguette!"