Tokyo Gore Police Review
Last year’s The Machine Girl was a total revelation; an over-the-top blood-soaked feast of revenge, which utilised broad movie references and employed minor social critique to come away a strange concoction of comedy, melodrama and horror, yet on account of its own inventiveness retained its own identity and has since earned itself a nice cult status. Just about the only other feature that was set to rival the insane hype around the same time of its release was Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police. Incidentally Nishimura - one of Japan’s most creative special effects artists working today, from underground productions to mainstream film and television - in fact had a hand in realising The Machine Girl’s strange little world, so it’s no surprise really that his first major feature feels somewhat like a companion piece, that coupled with him also challenging genre conventions. The film is a remake of Nishimura’s award-winning independent debut Anatomia Extinction and was co-produced by American distributor Media Blasters, who had already been bowled over by his work on that other said film featuring a schoolgirl with a huge arm cannon.
Deceptively opening on blossoming flowers and the sounds of children playing, Tokyo Gore Police doesn’t piss about when it comes to quickly establishing its overall tone as a young Ruka witnesses the shocking death of her police officer father (Keisuke Horibe). From that first exploding head we know we’re in for some insane stuff, this moment barely scratching the surface of Nishimura’s depraved imagination. The story follows a now grown-up Ruka (Eihi Shiina) who is working for the Tokyo Police Corporation; a privatised organisation which carries out acts of extreme violence to maintain order on the streets. Raised since childhood by her kindly police chief (Yukihide Benny), her only mission in life is to find out her father’s murderer an exact revenge. But it’s no easy task, not with the ever-present threat of “Engineers” taking up most of the departments resources. These “Engineers” are bio-mechanically enhanced individuals, capable of using their own wounds to their advantage. Ruka’s latest mission is to track down the mysterious creator of their source of power, simply known as “The Key Man (Itsuji Itao). Through him she’ll find clues behind her father’s murder, but it might just bring her more pain and torment than she could have possibly imagined.
Throughout Tokyo Gore Police we can sense a clear admiration for eighties American science fiction and Japanese Cyberpunk. Nishimura certainly works from familiar blueprints. Ruka herself seems like an alternative take on Harrison Ford’s Deckard; an “Engineer Hunter” who’s the only person skilled enough to systematically take out the troublesome, while in relation the neon-lit streets of Tokyo, which back in the day helped to inspire Scott’s vision for Blade Runner, provide a suitably edgy backdrop. However, there’s a notion that Nishimura, for all the simple fun he wishes to have, is indeed trying a little too hard to be edgy. Nothing is more evident than during the Paul Verhoeven-inspired TV commercials which set out to satirise a nation’s obsession with violence. Every ten minutes or so a commercial cuts into the plot, though there are only two types of gags which are repeatedly hammered home. One involves the privatisation of the police force, set to - I kid you not - an almost carbon copy rendition of Bill Conti’s Masters of the Universe theme; the other makes light of promoting hip wrist-cutting devices for schoolgirls, while there’s even a spoof of Nintendo’s Wii console. But they’re simply not funny, as much as the director’s societal viewpoints become stale after the third time seeing them. We get it! Ironically, Noboru Iguchi, who knew how to pick his moments in The Machine Girl, directs the CM spots here.
But that’s just it. What else does one do with little story to tell, other than the obvious? While the social critiques may arguably have their place, there are few too many padded moments that drag the feature down. With a run time that’s not all too forgiving, Tokyo Gore Police faces its toughest moments during a meandering middle act. It’s all tedious exposition, aside from a few nasty moments thrown in to spice things up, whereby twists are revealed and secondary and tertiary characters enter and exit frame to little avail. The problem that Nishimura has here is lack of focus, as if for some reason he finds placing emphasis on cops turned bad and evil scientists far more interesting than the heroin herself. For her part Eihi Shiina (best known for her chilling turn in Takashi Miike’s Audition) puts in a fine performance, delivering when required of her a reasonable amount of pathos, yet for some reason she’s shunted into the background for huge portions of the flick. It’s only ever enjoyable when she’s knocking about, and when she’s not you really do notice the time dragging, which is a great shame because she’s adored on camera, with the director achieving some of his finest shots as a direct result. This was written by three people no less, and it often feels like they were at loggerheads. Nishimura clearly doesn’t have a flair for dialogue, while Kengo Kaji who had delivered wonders in co-adapting Junji Ito’s Uzumaki should have by rights come up with something a little less mundane than some sign-posted twists and clichéd developments.
Just as Nishimura’s social satire, then, could never be deemed subtle, his gore-laden effects are every bit as over-the-top as The Machine Girl was in its visceral presentation of torn limbs and severed arteries. The director also owes his thanks to Sogo Ishii and Shinya Tsukamoto’s Cyberpunk classics for his film’s fetishist human mutilations, with just a hint of Junji Ito and Nobuo Tanaka madness thrown in for good measure and Masamune Shirow’s philosophical musings providing the groundwork for their being. And for its flaws there’s no doubt whatsoever that Tokyo Gore Police’s saving grace is its lovingly crafted visuals and fight sequences, the latter of which are given prominence thanks to Tak Sakaguchi’s (a fave of Nishimura and Ryuhei Kitamura) entertaining choreography. Granted, the visual effects are rarely convincing - in fact some instances such as Ruka carving away at her arm are downright awful - which by their very nature makes it impossible to squirm and look away, but they’re undeniably fun and inventive, carrying a mean streak of tongue-in-cheek humour, which works far better than the aforementioned satire for quick-fire sight gags. Indeed Nishimura attempts to push boundaries as far as he can, with sexual taboos featuring deformed men and women seeking other forms of pleasure in underworld dens; the fetish auction club in itself is one of the most surreal things you’ll witness all year. I can assure you that you won’t have seen Urolagnia quite like this! Killer-croc vaginas, menacing penis weapons and a BDSM quadruple amputee with swords for limbs make for astounding eye-candy (in the distasteful sense) ensuring Nishimura as a force to be reckoned with in his chosen field of make-up and special effects design.
Aside from minor digital noise the transfer here is pretty damn good. Anamorphically presented at 1.78:1, the film features superb colour balance, with excellent contrast (there are deliberately over-saturated moments on certain scenes) and perfect black levels and shadow detail. Each frame comes across wonderfully as Nishimura brings into play just about every colour of the spectrum, with no bleeding or cross-colouring to mar them. It also appears to be progressive.
For audio we’re spoiled with Japanese DD 2.0, 5.1 Surround and matching English dubs. I personally went for the Japanese 5.1 and didn’t for a second even sample the English. I know that may sound unprofessional, but I’m not interested. The track isn’t as aggressive as I’d have expected, especially after hearing the rumbling Media Blasters intro as the disc loads up. It’s still solid though. Dialogue presents no difficulties, with rear channels picking up strong ambience and the overall soundstage handling music efficiently. In comparison the 2.0 track sounds like a downmix to me, it’s not hugely different other than the 5.1 mix having stronger bass.
Optional English subtitles are also included and they offer a good translation. The only slight irritant is the constant need for the them to translate the banners outside of the police station every time Ruka pulls up.
Nothing but a trailer. You’d think Media Blasters, who put money into this thing, would have provided some decent making-of material. Quite a let down.
As much as I wanted to embrace Tokyo Gore Police I found it hard to digest; it’s far too busy with its ideas, resulting in some stiff pacing, and comparing it with that of The Machine Girl is almost impossible not to do. There’s a lot of talent on display here. Importantly it’s passionate and its visuals carry it through to the very end, but some may find the rest to be quite a slog, particularly the dreary middle act which only offers fun in brief spurts. And I mean that quite literally.