Tokyo Tribe (film review by Frank Ochieng).

Ardent followers of iconoclastic Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono will certainly rejoice in the continued surrealistic cinema that erratically meshes a combustion of various themes and genres thus generating a spicy spectacle of action-oriented exuberance. Sono, known for such colorful feisty-minded fare such as ‘Guilty Of Romance’ and ‘Suicide Circle’ will have one scratching their bewildered noggins trying the grasp the latest twisted tale of sexual and violent gumption in the wildly impish and imaginative gang-bang musical street-tug-of-war crime caper ‘Tokyo Tribe’.  Outwardly frivolous, frenetic and fueled with a bizarre combination of opulence and outlandishness, ‘Tokyo Tribe’ will indeed stimulate the senses with its hodge-podge of hedonistic heft in the realm of instantaneous insanity.


There is no doubt that Sono’s turbulent and tactical offering in ‘Tokyo Tribe’ is a devoted salute to the memorable gang movies and notable musicals that have graced moviegoers’ consciousness throughout the decades of cinema in general. The homage to the influences that ‘Tokyo Tribe’ festively borrows from is delightfully thrown in one’s exhaustive face in gaudy, grand fashion. From obvious gangster tributes to rousing gems such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’, ‘Scarface’, ‘Ichi The Killer’ and ‘The Warriors’ to finger-snapping singalongs that include ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’, Sono’s melodic meltdown of fists, firepower and fury is a serving of potent street turf stew ready to be sampled with sensory overload. Clearly, ‘Tokyo Tribe’ is proudly off-balanced and curiously unstructured to the point that the free-for-all bombastic action and strife is celebrated with indescribable excitement.

Sono’s crime and fantasy landscape of a dystopian Tokyo gone up for grabs in clashing ecstasy leaves some wondering if the over-whelming elements of its boisterous flavored parts are truly worth the powder keg production as a whole. Well, ‘Tokyo Tribe’ dutifully captures the haunting and high-spirited wrath of its yakuza-style boiling point. Although at times seemingly uneven and over-indulgent in its zest for collaborative craziness, ‘Tribe’ does manage to wink at its super-charged exploitation with a dynamic giddiness that wryly registers. Saddled with sadistic criminal gang-bangers, hip hop-induced tunes piercing through the film’s booming soundtrack and skin-clad beauties for the hormones to race aimlessly at will, ‘Tokyo Tribe’ is both caustic and cockeyed, while reveling in its need for the featured Japanese rap musicians to convey a sense of creative yet corrosive urgency in the showcased horror of the furious Far East streets of mayhem.

There is something that can be said for Sono’s energetic direction of a gun-toting narrative that could easily be dismissed as over-blown and pretentiously shocking. This, however, is actually the appeal to ‘Tokyo Tribe’ because it is willing to be unconventional, unnerving and unapologetic for its pumped-up presentation of wayward will and war on the mean streets and alleyways as carried out by larger-than-life machete-swinging merchants whose taste for blood is undeniable. Sono’s frenzied fable of street-minded violators with a code for chaos and conflict is what feverishly steers ‘Tokyo Tribe’ into a grinding and gritty guilty pleasure of a crime story peppered with dream-like delusion and confusion. Granted that ‘Tokyo Tribe’ is not as high-minded or observant as Sono’s moving ‘The Land Of Hope’. Still, ‘Tribe’ feels joyously experimental as a volt-oriented vehicle with reckless promise and panache.  

Filmmaker Sono's gonzo gangsters will be gunning for your undivided attention in the musical and menacing gang-related crime caper TOKYO TRIBE
Filmmaker Sono’s gonzo gangsters will be gunning for your undivided attention in the musical and menacing gang-related crime caper TOKYO TRIBE

The premise is set as twenty-three gangs are vying for ultimate control of the targeted tough streets in futuristic Tokyo in what appears to be a fierce face-off for the ages. Naturally, these gangs (or ‘tribes’ as they are deemed) look to make their presence known within Japan’s vulnerable capital city. In particular, the over-bearing and menacing overlord Bubba (Rika Takeuchi) envisions taking over the entire region and having dominance over the other crime lords and their minions. The ruthless Bubba means business as he wants the existing tribes at his feet of mercy.  Hence, Bubba calls for an all-out war in an attempt to challenge his equally evil-minded rivals.

Of course, when Bubba and his underlings, including his son, are not trying to take over the Tokyo street operations, they look to hook the attention of pretty and prestigious Sunmi (Nana Seino). The jeopardised Sunmi just happens to be the daughter of a prominent local bigshot in the community. Nothing says complete triumph to Bubba and his backers should Sumni succumb to his personal needs within his felonious organisation. Soon, the realisation comes into focus: the rivals all over Tokyo must come in unison to stop the diabolical Bubba from becoming the master manipulator and prevent him for furthering any power hunger proclivities.

Surely the audience will find themselves surrendering to the various devious angles that ‘Tokyo Tribes’ turns its tricks towards in spontaneous, off-kilter fashion. Over-the-top characterisations, animated violent sequences, fleshy females, combative confrontations, flashy choreographed movements, the aforementioned inclusion of some well-known Japanese rap artists, dizzying colorised overtones, provocative wardrobes, both silly-minded and stirring gang-style antics are all are assembled with weary finesse that propels ‘Tokyo Tribe’ as an overactive romp that knows its role all too well. What role is that one might ask? Perhaps to be an entertainingly odd and ludicrous genre flick that acts as an unsettling messenger for our indiscriminate preferences in cinematic mob mentalities and musical musings.

Tokyo Tribe (2014)

1 hr. 57 mins.

Starring: Young Dais, Ryouhei Suzuki, Nana Seino, Shota Sometani and Riki Takeuchi

Directed by: Sion Sono

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Gang-Related Fantasy and Suspense/Crime and Drama/Action and Adventure

Critic’s rating: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng 2015


Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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