JapaneseSpeciesMaria OzawaMarika Minami
Tokyo Species
Medium: film
Year: 2012
Director: Nozomu Kasagi
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Keywords: Species, SF, horror
Actor: Maria Ozawa, Marika Minami, Manami Mizuse, Namiko, Kazunori Kobayashi, Tomonori Kouno, Shigeo Osako, Yuri Akikawa
Format: 70 minutes
Url: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Species
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 14 August 2012
It's a Japanese straight-to-video film in which porn star Maria Ozawa plays an alien who has sex with men, then kills them. It's called Tokyo Species. It's trying to ride on the coat-tails of the famously nudity-ridden Natasha Henstridge franchise.
However does it feel like a Species film? I think not. The similarities are:
(a) Maria Ozawa can't act
(b) she gets her boobs out
(c) she can grow a CGI tail (and other extensions) that have been swiped from H.R. Giger
(d) her motivations and modus operandi are similar, in that she's trying to reproduce
That's not much, though. There's certainly not enough for the real franchise's owners to sue over. Instead it's more like The Hidden, with body-hopping aliens chasing each other. They can possess any fresh human corpse and walk around in it, although the script does relatively little with this idea and so, for instance, no one gets killed for their body. There's a bad alien (Ozawa) and another alien who's chasing her with scanners and a silver fluid pellet gun, but is a catastrophically bad shot.
Meanwhile it's more low-key than even the third and fourth Species films, let alone the first two. Ozawa is a schoolgirl who committed suicide because she was being bullied. On coming back as an alien, she simply resumes her old life, except with killings. She goes to school. She meets the bullies. She's pursued at a shy distance by a bespectacled Marika Minami, who never had the nerve to speak to her but is doing a good impersonation of a lesbian in love. This is a film with only three significant roles and two of those barely count as speaking parts. Ozawa is mute almost throughout, to the point where you assume she's incapable of speech, while Minami is very nearly as taciturn.
Even the nudity is rubbish. Ozawa is topless briefly in two scenes. That's it. Altogether it's barely five seconds. The poster and DVD cover has more titillation and even there you can't see Ozawa's nipples. Mind you, the egg-laying scene makes up for this a little by being freaky.
I couldn't possibly recommend this movie. It's unambitious and small-scale in every way. It's cheap, its CGI is perfunctory and it has silly continuity errors. It's not even a pink film, because there's not enough pink. However that said, in some ways I quite liked it.
Firstly, I like the aesthetic of low-budget Japanese films (i.e. nearly all Japanese films). It's twice as true here, though. Japanese films feel intimate. They get close to their characters and stay there. Their default mode is to have slightly drab, realistic performances, captured patiently and in detail in a manner that's happy to come across as mundane and day-to-day. That's an odd fit for a Species film, but it sort of works. It's more involving than action scenes. The big plot info-dump, for instance, stops being about mere exposition and instead becomes a scene about how Minami's being bullied by an extraterrestrial. Minami's a gravure idol, not an actress, but what she's doing is a good fit with this style and I thought her performance worked. Meanwhile Ozawa isn't acting at all, yet in this context her zombie impassivity fits too.
The film's intimacy is also accentuated by occasional alien point-of-view shots, done with fish-eye lenses and first-person camerawork that gets very close to things. It's a simple trick, but again an effective one. Even the incidental music is helping here, with a close, pounding beat like a pulse.
The goofs and plot holes are amazing, though.
1. No policeman or other authority figures ever show up to investigate, despite the fact that one of Ozawa's victims is a policeman.
2. Schoolboys find the bloody corpses of several of their classmates and respond with, "Come and look, everyone! Corpses!"
3. Hilarious editing in Ozawa's first sex scene. She's got her tits out! No, she's wearing her bra! He's taking her bra off! No, it's back on again!
4. Ozawa's on-screen parents are both Japanese, despite the fact that she's clearly half-Caucasian. Her father's French-Canadian.
5. Why did the alien hunter bother to register as a transfer student? Why is she such a bad shot?
6. After being impaled through the sternum by a ten-foot-long Alien tail, someone has no blood on her shirt. Then, a few shots later, she does.
The special effects aren't special, although it's interesting to compare state-of-the-art Hollywood CGI from 1995 and bargain-basement "knocked up on a laptop" rubbish from 2012. There's not much difference. The CGI itself looks good. It's the integration with live-action footage that's poor. Also the blood looks watery, like thin poster paint.
Fundamentally, I sort of like this film. Intellectually, I approve of it. It's trying to find emotional meaning through Minami's character and for me succeeding at this better than most of the regular Species movies, albeit in an understated way. I like the emotional significance of the final murder weapon, for instance. I also think it adds personality that two of its three main characters are either mute or nearly so. Finally and most interestingly it's an overwhelmingly female movie, with men hardly ever appearing on-screen and never with a life expectancy of more than a few minutes. The Species franchise drifted away from its initial position of all-powerful women into more conventionally man-focused stories. This film on the other hand has no use for men at all. Even in the scene with Ozawa's parents, her father is a waste of space and her mother is the active one.
However in practice, it's hard to get past the amazing goofs and zero-budget lack of ambition. Does Ozawa have some "no dialogue" clause in her contract? She's basically a body in the Kekko Kamen movies too, with so few lines that it started feeling almost like a plot point. Imagine a low-budget SF horror non-pink film. It's both better and much more underwhelming than I'd expected.