This morning I watched a Japanese film called The Machine Girl. What do you think this might be about? If you guessed "stupid gore with a schoolgirl whose arm is a machine gun", then bingo!
There was a fashion for extreme Asian cinema in the late nineties and early 2000s. As with all fashions, it came and eventually went. Takashi Miike and Ryuhei Kitamura went off in new directions, Kinji Fukasaku died and eventually the Western distributors that had grown up around this boom started commissioning more of it themselves. This film and Tokyo Gore Police
are the two best-known examples, both from 2008, and they got enough attention that they've already been followed up by the likes of RoboGeisha, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl
and Mutant Girls Squad
. Not all of those have Western co-producers, but this one comes to us courtesy of Nikkatsu (Japanese) and Fever Dreams (American).
What makes these films slightly different from apparently similar Japanese freak-out cinema is that: (a) they're not particularly interested in naked women, (b) they're aiming for nothing more than to be a laugh. Miike can get pretty intense, for instance, but this film? It's fluff. Nothing here matters, the story is pretty much weightless and the gore is daft. Admittedly it's more realistic than Tokyo Gore Police
, but that's like calling a rhino less tiny than an elephant. It's true, but nearly meaningless. To list this film's absurdities wouldn't merely be a labour of Hercules, but to miss the point unless you're meaning it as praise.
The story involves a schoolgirl played by Minase Yashiro, whose parents have committed suicide and whose brother is about to get murdered by ninja yakuza bullies. (No, really.) In other words, it's a revenge movie. To be fair it's classically constructed in its pulpy way and it would have been possible to take the film halfway seriously if they'd just cut back on the goofy gore effects, but of course those are the whole point of the movie. Ostensibly it's set in the real world rather than neo-Tokyo or the like, but it's a mad nonsense version of Japan where policemen will try to kill you rather than hear anything bad said about their sons and a completely random group of men in the street might try to rape you. I found it almost disorientating. You'll be walking along a normal Japanese street of a kind you might see anywhere, then five minutes later someone will be getting their head chainsawed in half. Everyone's either a victim or a psycho, with our heroes arguably falling into both categories.
The details of the plot are... um, irrelevant. People do really gross things, then Yashiro does really gross things to them right back. This is the point of the movie. However the villains are so triumphantly deranged that there's a definite fascination in seeing what vile thing they'll come up with next. The sushi scene is just wrong, for instance, while the drill bra is pretty unpleasant too. These guys are sick. They're so flamboyantly evil that you'll still be supporting our heroines even as, say, they torture a captive by hammering nails into his head.
Did I mention that it doesn't make sense, though? I realise that it's meant to be goofy, but I can't not bring up some of this. Blood will spray as if from a fireman's hose, but only when the director feels like it. Thus you'll have a decapitated corpse that starts gushing only on cue, while I didn't notice any blood at all when that yakuza stuck a sword through Yashiro's arm. A father identifies his dead son on sight, despite the small matter of only being able to see a decapitated neck stump. Even by this film's standards, the posing ninja are silly. If your arm is cut off and you can't find a doctor, then try a car mechanic whose father was a doctor instead. Bullets can be knocked aside with a sword, even when you're being machine-gunned at point-blank range. I think you get the picture.
Then you've got the acting. Noboru Iguchi has directed porn in the past, not to mention the likes of Sukeban Boy
, so it's no surprise to see that all the main female roles are played either by gravure idols or porn stars. Examples of the former are Minase Yashiro and Noriko Kijima, while the latter would be the one-named Asami and Honoka. Ironically the porn stars are better actresses. Yashiro is variable, although in fairness this was her first film and I'm willing to cut her some slack. She's carrying the entire film and with the odd glitch here and there, she does the job. Kijima is rubbish, though. However the good news is that some of these actresses are downright beautiful, albeit clearly in their early twenties and yet most of them supposedly the mothers of boys in their late teens.
Don't expect nudity, though. There's a bit of cleavage in one scene, but otherwise Noboru Iguchi has no intention of going beyond occasional knicker and bra shots. (To make up for this, the following year he'd make The Ancient Dogoo Girl.) Admittedly Yashiro spends a good chunk of the finale running around with her shirt torn open, but her bra underneath might as well be bulletproof.
You might notice the name of legendary ninja Hattori Hanzo being mentioned, by the way. Tarantino didn't pluck it from thin air for Kill Bill, after all. Oh, and there's a 22-minute spin-off film that's basically a DVD extra, called Shyness Machine Girl
If I were feeling particularly deranged, I might try to call this film feminist. It's certainly going all the way with girl power. However less misleading words to use would be "insane", "gross" and "silly". I defy anyone to claim that this film can be taken seriously after we've seen the tempura-fried arm, for instance, although in fairness I liked the ridiculously evil villains and the fact that more of the cast than you'd think are playing it straight. Well, straight-ish. Although not Yakuza Dad. The American film one tends to see this film being compared with is Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, since they're both unrealistic gore comedies with a heroine who replaces a missing limb with a gun. It's okay, I suppose.