I have a favourite anecdote about Yoshihiro Nishimura. He was asked in an interview whether any extreme was too extreme, if there was any particular boundary of good taste that should not be crossed and whether it was possible to go too far. Answer: "no".
Nishimura had been a special effects guy on films like Meatball Machine, Suicide Club, Strange Circus and The Machine Girl, but while doing the latter he was asked if he'd like to direct something himself. He chose to make Tokyo Gore Police, which is a remake of an independent film he'd made many years earlier called Anatomia Extinction. Shooting the new version took three tons of fake blood and two weeks.
This is not an intellectual film. It's not emotionally engaging and it has almost nothing in the way of plot, acting or characterisation. The most entertaining bits about it are some fake commercials which didn't come from Nishimura at all, instead being filmed by Noboru Iguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi. The latter suggested them as a way of lightening the tone. What this film has instead is gore. Trust that title. Nishimura is going apeshit with every kind of freaky gore effect and body mutilation he can think of, which is quite a lot.
It's like a Japanese RoboCop, with a near-future Tokyo, a privatised police force and lots of TV commercials in such appalling taste that they're brilliant. Our heroine is a girl with self-harm issues and a samurai sword. Her enemies are called Engineers and they have key-shaped implants which render them psychotically indestructible until you've either cut out or destroyed said implant. However the tricky bit is that every time you wound an Engineer, the injury will turn into some kind of gross mutated weapon. It's like an art form. Nishimura isn't trying to give his gore any kind of emotional impact, but instead is playing with it. He's simply trying to do disgusting over-the-top things you've never seen before, which occasionally he succeeds at to such an extent that I was laughing out loud. The gore-blast rocket flight is probably the maddest thing in the film for me, but the chair was impressive even before it started spraying urine and of course there's Crocodile Crotch Girl.
I'd read a lot about this film. A lot of folks had gone nuts for it. The hyperbole was off the scale and it's certainly true that it's going out of its way to be as transgressive as possible. However by Japanese standards, I thought it wasn't as bad as I'd been led to expect. The blood often doesn't look like blood, but red water. The physical transformations are ingenious, but they're not that dissimilar to something like Cutey Honey: The Live. That was a TV show! (They're so similar in fact that I looked up the dates and yes, Cutey Honey came out first, in 2007.) The freakshow element starts getting a bit of perspective once you've remember Japan's tradition of goofy tokusatsu films and kaijuu like Godzilla. This is merely the gore equivalent. Yes, it's gross. Yes, it's stupidly over the top. Yes, there's an entire 10-15 minute sequence of the film that serves almost no purpose in the plot except to show how deeply disturbed the special effects department are. However I wouldn't call it the nuclear option in gore or anything like that.
I mentioned the adverts, which are awesome. The first one is merely an advert for the new privatised police force, although I'm unclear on how their selling process works. Policemen still seem to be free at the point of delivery, so maybe it's just a publicity campaign to help get their contracts renewed? However after that we're into some totally demented shit like "stop the hara-kiri", remote execution (fun for all the family) and the adorable Wrist Cutter G for all your suicide needs. Half of these adverts are works of genius and the other half are merely okay, but I'm including in the latter category a police advert that ends with boys playing football with a criminal's severed head.
It's quite an interesting near-future world, actually, although they haven't put any effort into the details. You've got Engineers and a police force that dress up in samurai costumes. Oh, and the police radio updates come from a bimbo in a platinum blonde wig. I think that's about it, but that's still enough to be distinctive.
The acting is mostly beside the point, but it's worth noting that Eihi Shiina is playing the lead. She was the scary girl in Audition and I see she's also in Nishimura's 2009 film, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl
. The freaky thing is that according to Takashi Miike she's a method actress, for instance really making herself vomit for the scene where her character vomited. I don't want to contemplate what a method actress might start doing on a film like this. Her role here is pretty one-dimensional, but Shiina's good at looking grim and wielding a sword. Incidentally she has a much slimmer CV than I'd expected, but I suspect that's saying more about her public image and not being willing to play the Japanese celebrity game than it is about her talent.
In case you hadn't guessed, this isn't a dialogue-heavy film. It's almost startling to hear Shiina say anything at all, but I liked her lines to the villain at the end about being a police officer. In the emotional wilderness that is Tokyo Gore Police, that briefly resonated. It's also good to note that Nishimura's doing his bit to assist Sino-Japanese relations. (Ahem.)
It's also worth noticing how far the film's willing to push its lack of reality. I think the memories of fathers being shot in the head can't be taken as literally true, because even for this film that would be stupid. The bracelet-bursting is the most obvious moment of fantasy, though.
This isn't the kind of film you can discuss for hours, unless you're merely reminiscing about someone getting a chainsaw in his mouth and his head exploding. To be honest, I thought they could have done more. Imagine a superhero fight with an Engineer, for instance. You could go nuts with this even just as a superpower, whereas Nishimura's concentrating on the freakshow approach even if he does give us a cool fight with Spider Sword Stump Girl. There's nudity, but it's being Frankensteined. It's also a longer film than you'd expect, which seems like a weird decision to me but it has to be said that it supports its length surprisingly well. You'd expect something so largely uninterested in story and character to seem almost interminable, but to its credit Tokyo Gore Police manages not to be boring.
"More gore coming soon," said the closing titles and apparently a straight-to-video prequel has been announced. I'm slightly disappointed about the "prequel" bit, since the film's final shot was so badass. I would absolutely not want to be a criminal in that Tokyo. Incidentally, is it just me or is Tokyo an inherently cool name for a title like this? "Tokyo Gore Police". Try putting other cities' names in there and you'll see what I mean. There's a reason RoboCop isn't called "Detroit RoboCop", you know.
I don't imagine I'll ever rewatch this, but it had to be seen. At the very least I admire Nishimura's ingenuity, if not his taste and restraint.