Meatball Machine Review

Director Jun-ichi Yamamoto remakes his 10-minute short from 1999, which sees him team up with Yudai Yamaguchi, whose credits include the delightfully absurd Cromartie High movie and Battlefield Baseball.

The story centres on Yoji (Issei Takahashi); an introverted young man who works at a factory and fantasises about a woman named Sachiko (Aoba Kawai) who works across the road. His life is changed for the worst when a chance encounter sees him rescue Sachiko from a horny colleague, thus inviting her to his place. After an emotional one-to-one Sachiko is attacked by an alien creature which Yoji had taken home after discovering one evening. Her body is transformed into a mutilated monstrosity, which pisses her off a bit. I can’t be arsed with the rest.

Many comparisons have been made between Meatball Machine and Shinya Tsukamoto’s groundbreaking cyberpunk thriller Tetsuo from 1989. Such comparisons are entirely valid, however, strengthened by the fact that Yamamoto’s original intent was indeed to emulate the style of the cult underground smash. Aided by the wizardry effects of Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl) the task is made just that little bit easier, though in contrast the overall sterile nature of the HD format fails to match the raw intensity of Tsukamoto’s and Sogo Ishii’s early 16mm works. Nonetheless there’s plenty of perverse humour and more than enough over-the-top antics to please gore-hounds.

It’s certainly an odd little number indeed, and if anything it struggles with setting a tone. There’s not only a silly sub-plot involving a crazed scientist and his daughter, but the directors also spend almost half of the run time trying to establish a romantic pairing between our leads, and it initially feels like it could very well work. While light on social commentary there is perhaps an argument to made somewhere here about superficiality, given a key scene in which Aoba Kawai tries her damn hardest, successfully so I might add, to sell the drama. But any intended pathos is eventually nullified as an unfortunate event sets the film into overdrive, whereupon its only mission is to deliver 30 minutes of rather mean-spirited violence and repetitive dialogue. While I don’t often have a problem with that, here it’s awkward at best and I can’t say its particularly pleasant or enjoyable to see poor Sachiko meet an unfortunate demise, nor condone the senseless murder of a small child who just happens to be passing by, no matter how much the filmmakers might try to convince us that there’s a point to all this.

The Disc: A standards conversion, Meatball Machine also suffers from some heavy pixilation during its tenser moments. Presented anamorphically at 1.78:1 the post-processed visuals otherwise look fine. The Japanese DD2.0 is fairly underwhelming; dialogue is ok, but there’s very little ‘oomph’ during the numerous bouts of action. Optional English subtitles offer a solid translation, with very few grammatical errors.

The disc fares best of all in terms of its bonus content. At over 30 minutes, we’ve a detailed look at the making of the film, filled with insightful interviews from principal cast and crew. There’s an original Japanese trailer and also the original and very battered up “Meatball Machine” short film from 1999. “Meatball Machine: Reject of Death” is a more recent short, and actually features a better set of ideas than the main feature on the disc. It’s another film dealing with issues of suicide before going completely off the rails; it’s also accompanied by a 5-minute making-of piece. “What About Doi?” is a bizarre little side-story following the character Doi (Shoichiro Masumoto) from Meatball Machine as he goes on a quest to find a doll for his daughter, and finally we have Necroborg designs by Keita Amamiya.

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