Tokyo Tribe

Tokyo Tribe ★★★½

It's like Gaspar Noé adapted Jet Set Radio into a neon hip-hop musical — PaRappa the Rapper meets Enter the Void. Is that as cool as it sounds, though? First of all, even as it visually dazzles and some of the music makes me want to get swept up in its flowing tapestry of pure cinema, fucking abysmal rap verses throw me off and for almost an entire hour I'm stuck on the edge. I can't help but wonder if I'm just not informed when it comes to Japanese hip-hop, but I've been listening to a bunch of Run the Jewels and Kendrick Lamar lately and the lines here are just so much misogynistic and homophobic cliché and for too long it seems to me like Sono doesn't actually know a thing about real rap music and how progressive it is. I'm lost in frustration and anxiety over a film that feels like it should be pure aerosol-writin' beatitude.

And then...! Well, for some time I continued to question Sono's attitude toward hip-hop, but it gradually became clearer and clearer that this film is actually a savage mockery of such stereotypical machismo. It required some patience, but by the halfway mark I was convinced that Sono meant to take this outmoded expectation of rap music and transmute it into a bizarrely and rapturously subversive indictment of vulgar masculinity. With this considered the beats begin to infect the mind with the fucked up and haunting ecstasy I have come to expect from this director — and then in the increasingly kinetic fight sequences one notices the girls kicking ass on their travels through this montage of extravagant set pieces and we're reminded of Yoko in Love Exposure and her delightful misandrist violence.

Also, it's just so fucking gorgeous. It glows. Elaborate tracking shots propel it through corridors of gold and hazy yet vibrant and multicolored light. For a while there I feared I might be dealing with another Cold Fish, but in time its themes caught up with the maniacal bliss of its visuals. (Just be prepared to excuse a few edgy pop cinema clichés like a gangster's ringtone being the famous clip from Beethoven's 9th, obviously referencing A Clockwork Orange and making it a dorky Tarantino-esque motif of homage.) The verses eventually impress, making it more apparent that Sono didn't hire exclusively actors, but also people from "the streets" he strives to portray — rappers, tattooists, and various people living on the real urban fringes. I do wish he'd rely on more squibby violence instead of all the digital blood mists, but this is one of the only real blemishes on a film that sustains such a level of vivid graphic intensity for nearly two hours.

Going to need to watch this one again, because on this first viewing I wasn't able to get caught up in its epic splendor the way that I was with Love Exposure, but I think this would be different (and maybe rated more highly) the next time around. Finally: an ending sequence that manages to praise the magnificence of huge cock while also being cheekily emasculating is perhaps a cinematic triumph only Sion Sono could have achieved.

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