Kev takes a look at the highly touted Machine Girl: The latest blood-soaked offering from Japan. Director Noboru Iguchi firmly carves himself a nice reputation – along with hollowing out a few corpses along the way.
School girl Ami Hyuga (Minase Yashiro) has been living with her younger brother Yu (Ryosuke Kawamura) ever since the double suicide of their parents a few years ago. They live a quiet and seemingly happy life, but unbeknownst to Ami Yu has been a recent victim of school bullying. Both he and his best friend Takeshi ‘owe’ a local gang headed by a boy named Sho (Nobuhiro Nishihara) a couple of hundred thousand yen – a sum they can never realistically pay. During one unfortunate evening Yu and Takeshi are violently beaten and killed by Sho, who had no intention of ever sparing their lives. Ami is immediately alerted and upon discovering the bodies takes it upon herself to track down the young thugs. Her hunt leads her to discover that Sho’s family belongs to a ninja Yakuza organisation running under the pseudonym of the “Hanzo Hattori Clan”. But Ami’s early attempts in locating several of the bullies’ families doesn’t go well at all. She’s terribly wounded, to the point of losing her left arm, leaving her slowly bleeding to death. That is until she strays into the life of Takeshi’s mourning parents Miki (Asami) and Suguru. Takeshi’s father swiftly fixes her up and upon learning of her quest fashions her a machine gun attachment for her severed limb. Now armed to the teeth, and in a final bid of revenge, Ami and her saviours fight back against their loved ones’ killers, knowing that they are putting their own lives in jeopardy to see that justice is served.
Noboru Iguchi has slowly worked his way up the ranks in recent years; starting out in the early nineties doing a few acting gigs, he then branched out into screenwriting and found his footing as a director for adult videos. Plenty of word of mouth has done him a few serviceable favours, particularly throughout the past few years. 2006 proved to be a good year especially, which saw him adapt Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel Manji – most successfully adapted in 1964 by Yasuzo Masumura – and then his zanier and original work Sukeban Boy. But his films have hardly been big hitters. Quite possibly all that will change though with what is undoubtedly his signature piece. Machine Girl has been touring the festival circuit these past few months; the trailer alone generated much excitement from the cult crowds and it didn’t take long at all for the U.S. distribution rights to be snapped up. In fact this little V-Cinema gem is now due a Japanese theatrical release very soon, leaving us with the assumption that the studios see some marginal profit to be made. It certainly deserves it. Iguchi’s ultra-violent exploitation comedy is one of the most self assured and downright entertaining low-budget features to emerge from a congested niche market in some time, and if luck permits it just might see its creator go on to deliver greater things.
Looking at Machine Girl from an inward perspective it really does bare all the hallmarks of a typical revenge thriller. I doubt that Iguchi would argue against such a formulaic narrative device as it would be somewhat counter-productive in relation to what he’s ultimately setting out to achieve. What Machine Girl does so well is to take – and to a large degree embrace – standard cliché and thrust it into a compact run time, focusing primarily on fierce pacing and plenty of schlock value. Sure enough, then, from an outer perspective the movie is one huge rush of adrenalin – a feature that owes itself immensely to the talented and unique special effects team of Yoshihiro Nishimura (Meatball Machine, Sukeban Boy, Tokyo Gore Police) and Taiga Ishino. Of course having said that the feature has its technical faults; it never actually convinces us that what we’re seeing is real, but it’s charm lies in its hokey and elaborate execution, and above all a genuine sense of passion. This is as gory a film that you’ll likely see all year. Despite proudly wearing its influences on its sleeve – and believe me we’re looking at a tonne of inspiration over the past forty years, from Yoshihiro Ishikawa to Sam Raimi – it has an unmistakable inventiveness amidst being a self-referential piece of work. Every action sequence is permeated with carnality; arterial spewing graces the framework through which there is no shortage of ideas on display. And really, this is the important aspect that we’re all paying to see. Victims get limbs chopped off in various ways; fingers are turned into sushi; arms are battered in Tempura mix; holes are blown through faces; nails rammed into heads; steel drill bras shave off some excess flesh and there’s even a flying guillotine with one impressive set of chompers. What’s not to have fun with? Especially when Iguchi lenses his film so well, tapping into the exploitative seventies era which kicks off with a nifty title sequence and then unleashes a few surprising camera sweeps, while keeping his movie all the while firmly modernistic and in tune with current tastes. Sure, there are a few continuity slips, both in terms of effects work and holes in the narrative – for instance it’s implied but never resolved as to whether or not Ami’s parents were responsible for murder – but it’s better to try and ignore them and smile at unanswered questions when seeing things such as Ami in her spick and span sailor uniform post every brutal slaying. Who knows, maybe she does have a hidden dry cleaning ability.
So naturally humour plays a massive part in all of this – it has to. The picture is far too self-knowing when hitting its designated targets, and if you’re a fan of the genre conventions it so lovingly parodies then you’ll find yourself quite possibly in stitches. Machine Girl relishes the sight gag, nearly as much as it does in poking fun at wayward societal views. On the one hand you have a series of ridiculously violent encounters, each one progressively more bonkers than the last, and on the other you have this strange antagonistic driving force in the parental figures. It becomes apparent that Iguchi is possibly addressing some underlying issue by making his destructive adult cast the more inclined degenerates of society who are responsible for moulding future successors. That’s not to mention the bullying angle which takes plenty of precedence and contains utmost relevance in Japan. Examining the film on such a level may be too presumptuous though and to little avail, but when the subject here is so apt you can’t help but giggle as it unfolds. It’s when Iguchi bridges both generation gaps that he delivers some of the most rapturous scenes. One such highlight sees the ‘Junior High Shuriken Gang’ come to a grisly demise at the hands of Ami, only allowing for a following scene in which their parents come to mourn the loss in abject ignorance. The absurdity that their children being ninjas for heaven’s sake seems to bare little pause for thought. The revenge aspect is thus further emphasised as things turn on their head and a new threat under the guise of the American Football-padded ‘Super Mourning Gang’ emerge. All this of course alongside the ridiculous Yakuza stereotyping in Sho’s family.
The director had cottoned on a couple of years ago that sex sells. He’s a tad reminiscent of current cult fave Takao Nakano who cares little for established actresses and decides to give audiences what they want by going straight to a different source – that source being adult entertainment starlets. In the past few years we’ve seen some oddball flicks emerge from Japan with emphasis on lead players being either popular singers or – even more extremely – AV (adult video) and/or Gravure idols (bikini model). Yet curiously I find there’s a strange naturalism to some of these performances. Here we have Gravure idol Minase Yashiro and former AV performer Asami go hell for leather against an army of bizarre foes – and they’re more than up to the task. Moreover Iguchi isn’t afraid to rough up his heroines. Both are put through complete torture; it’s not enough for their characters to have a reason to fight on account of losing their loved ones, but on top of that they’re horribly mutilated at various intervals. Iguchi never makes them any less than vulnerable. The driving force of Ami especially requires a certain amount of understanding and Yashiro imbues the role with enough passion and self-belief to drum up an essential amount of sympathy, which makes it all the more worthwhile to watch as she mercilessly guns down her opposition and gradually becomes more elated with each life she takes. All the same she looks great and the director supplies a few creeping panty shots to boot. Special kudos also goes to Kentaro Shimazu as Mr. Kimura, but it’s Honoka as his sadistic wife who practically steals the show in actually being far more menacing than her pointy-haired hubby, and a worthy foe indeed for our hapless gun-toting “demon”.
I have to say I’m very impressed here, mainly for the reason that this is the first Tokyo Shock release I’ve reviewed that’s actually progressive. It could well have something to do with Tokyo Shock slapping their name on the opening credits and giving it as much exposure as possible. It’s presented anamorphically at approx 1.78:1 and offers a nice amount of detail. Contrast balance is a little shaky and it certainly brings out some noise factors; however, this has little to do with authoring as the film has evidently gone through a major post-filtering stage which includes lowering colour saturation and adding a faux grain in order to give it that ‘filmic’ atmosphere. We’ve seen this dozens of times when digital video is a source and it doesn’t always work. It proves to be a nice little touch here though, which breathes life into what would otherwise be a very sterile looking image.
Sound-wise we’re spoiled, perhaps overly so. In addition to having both Japanese and English DD2.0 tracks, we also have 5.1 Surround offerings. I’m going to start by saying the English dub is terrible – I rarely find myself getting into these U.S. dubs: pronunciation is annoying and there’s a certain air of dumbness in delivery. Sticking with Japanese then I find a far more enjoyable experience. If we’re to compare the 2.0 and 5.1 tracks then I’d have to say there’s very little difference to be had. This still appears to be a movie designed with 2.0 in mind, and that‘s hardly a surprise given its budget. Tokyo Shock has done a decent job in adding a surround mix, though it only marginally benefits across the rear channels during gunfire, and even then the after-effect feels somewhat subdued. Dialogue comes across pretty much the same on both fronts and it’s clean with no distortion.
Optional English subtitles are of course included. These are more tuned to the Japanese dialogue as the English dub would testify, and they do a perfectly good job. There’s very little room for error with such basic dialogue throughout, and there are no grammatical errors to my eyes that need pointing out
Behind the Scenes of Machine Girl is but a ten minute look at, well, the obvious. It offers some on-set interviews with several cast members, spending some time with the film’s central player who went through quite a rigorous training regime prior to filming, looking further into how she approached the role. It then takes a look at some of the special effects highlights such as the drill bra, tempura arm and sushi fingers, though we never get any great technical insight behind them. You get the impression that with a film such as this there’s a whole lot more to offer. As it stands this isn’t essential viewing but it’s better than nothing.
The Original Trailer is the only other highlight on the disc. It a U.S. produced trailer – presumably a DVD Promo – coming with English titles to describe the synopsis, while giving a few teasing shots. Again, we could have had another one or two better examples here.
Finally there is a collection of trailers for other Tokyo Shock titles: Heroes Two, Death Trance, Lone Wolf & Cub TV Series and Zebraman.
Noboru Iguchi’s Machine Girl is a film that’s done more than enough to live up to its exciting trailer; gloriously over the top it’s certainly the most impressive V-Cinema title I’ve seen in a while, ranking it alongside the likes of Hiroshi Takahashi’s Sodom the Killer and Takao Nakano’s Killer Pussy on the list of must-see low-budget Japanese titles of recent years. Iguchi has successfully borrowed elements from mainstream and cult cinema in formulating his own little oddball concoction. Once he unleashes his first big scene the momentum never lets up, and that’s a strength he’s more than capable of playing to with a knowingly barren script.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum