Sunday 5 September 2010

When Buildings Bleed

2009 Japan
Directed by Noboru Iguchi
CineAsia Extreme DVD Region 2

Blimey! Where to start on RoboGeisha?

I’ve seen a few of these newish extreme violence sci-fi flicks from Japan in the last year or so and I’ve often wondered how much the audience for these things are supposed to be taking it seriously. The Machine Girl was playful with the genre and had a few laughs but it was really on Tokyo Gore Police that I begun to suspect that it’s not just us arrogant gaijins who are laughing ourselves silly at the extreme and, obviously ludicrous, ultra-violent concepts occurring in these kinds of movies. In Tokyo Gore Police, for example, “our heroine” slices the legs off of her enemy... the arterial spray from his legs is so great that he uses it to fly around the room as if they were rocket tubes on a jet pack and attack her from above for the next three or four minutes... pretty bizarre.

I think with RoboGeisha I can definitely conclude that these movies are played very much for laughs in their own country too. A story of two sisters kidnapped and trained to be robotically enhanced geisha assassins for an evil company, RoboGeisha has very much a cartoon approach (or maybe I should say anime approach) to the extreme violence on offer. One guy, for example, repeatedly gets his head punched down into his stomach... each time it springs back up to offer a nugget of explanatory dialogue before another punch sends it back down into his stomach again.

My one problem on this one, however, is that the storyline doesn’t even make sense. After quite a strong opening sequence of geisha and tengu carnage (including throwing stars launched from the tengu’s bottoms and a buzz-saw mouth for the ultimate kiss of death), the lead character tells a government candidate she has just saved from death her entire back story... which is the length of the movie in flashback. The problem with that is that she dies at the end of the movie and although you are still hearing her tell you the story in voice over, the events never once catch up to her starting point or explain how she’s even alive to tell the story. There’s absolutely no explanation and the credits just role... I’m sure the director would probably tell that narrative continuity is not the “point” of his movie... but as a westerner I still felt a little cheated when they set up a framing reference point and then don’t make their way back to it.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to entertain in this fast-paced fest of bloody mayhem. One scene, for example has our heroine facing off against the aforementioned tengu, each using a samurai blade that springs out from their anus. The ensuing swordfight plays out with the various opponents facing away from each other as they wiggle their butts ferociously. Another scene has a man blinded by our heroine who forces shrimps into his eyes... so he carries on fighting with the offending crustaceans protruding ridiculously from his eye sockets. This is typical of the tone of the scenes in this movie.

One of the things I’m surprised about is the incredibly plagiaristic musical score used here. I’m well used to Chinese and Turkish movies from the 60s, 70s and 80s just out and out purloining their soundtracks from US movies and needle dropping them into their films to create the entire soundtrack... the Turkish film Captain America & Santo VS Spiderman, for example, has a soundtrack which is comprised almost solely of music lifted from the old vinyl recordings of Diamonds Are Forever and Shaft’s Big Score. But this movie has new music written to sound just like other films without actually being them... a classic case of temptrackitus if ever there was one. The main action theme, for example, is just a thinly orchestrated riff on McCartney’s (or perhaps Martin’s) Live and Let Die. When RoboGeisha’s legs transform themselves into a tank for her to sit on, the music actually (for some reason), starts to take on a strong resemblance to Basil Poledouris title character march from Robocop. The only really creative comment made from this musical "borrowing" is when the lead villain’s castle uproots itself and turns itself into a walking giant stomping castle monster robot so it can drop a bomb into Mount Fuji... the music suddenly transforms itself into something very reminiscent of Akira Ifikube’s lumbering slow Godzilla sub-theme. So that’s kinda interesting.

The giant castle monster robot sequence really hits it home to you that this movie is definitely a comedy, by the way. When it starts doing the inevitable stomp and crush routine... when it knocks big handfuls of brickwork off of buildings as it passes, the buildings let out big surges of bloody arterial spray in a parody of the standard, bloody Japanese hack and slash movies which have been so popular since Kurosawa unwittingly started the trend with his spectacular arterial spray shot at the end of Sanjuro (his sequel to his own masterpiece, Yojimbo). This is really quite funny and unexpected when it first happens.

All in all, another shaky but entertaining example of this kind of movie which seems to be pretty endemic of contemporary Japanese cinema... although I fear the genre is beginning to get a bit tired now. The film is pretty soulless and has no real heart to it... it just about scrapes in on novelty value is my verdict on this one. Definitely of passing interest though.

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