Screening last night (Thursday 7th May) at the Derby Film Festival, the same night as the General Election here in the UK, there doesn’t seem like a better time for Eureka Entertainment to be releasing Sion Sono’s latest feature Tokyo Tribe. A narrative centred around a battle for power between warring factions, with each crew featuring some slick talking (or rapping in this case) leaders, as the politicians do battle here on the streets of Britain, Sono’s epic feature sees battling rap crews fighting for the power of a Tokyo neighbourhood. Like a modern-day mash-up of The Warriors, Wild Style and Westside Story, Tokyo Tribe looks set to be 2015’s film you either love to hate or hate to love.
In a futuristic, alternate-world Tokyo, the city is made up of ghetto slums and nightclub playgrounds where gangs of wayward youth rule the streets. The city is carved up into ‘hoods, and the crossing of territorial lines quickly leads to riots and rumbles. On the turf ruled by the savage yakuza Big Buppa, the simmering tension is about to boil over into all-out war. Who will emerge victorious? Territory, friendship, pride, love… Everything is put on the line in a desperate struggle for supremacy!
Based on a popular Manga series (Tokyo Tribe 2 by Santa Inoue) and told almost entirely in rap verse (by some of Japan’s top rappers), Tokyo Tribe has to be seen to be believed. The aggressive assault of the beats and rhymes wreaks havoc as a massive ensemble cast shocks, excites, and incites an unparalleled sonic war!
Completely over-the-top and beautifully choreographed, Tokyo Tribe is the feature-length rap-musical we’ve all been waiting for. Including every hip-hop video trope you can list; from scantily clad women to crotch-grabbing, Sion Sono has turned the volume up to 11 in his latest excessive production. Like a music-video that never ends, Tokyo Tribe floats from scene-to-scene, as our lyrical narrators take turns to guide us on a journey through their ultra-violent neon universe. This isn’t a narrative designed to provoke thought or deep discussion, this is a story specifically designed for fun…insane, inane, glorious fun.
As a huge fan of hip hop, I have to admit that Japanese rap isn’t a particular favourite of mine and I do wish I enjoyed the music element of Tokyo Tribe more. Like many elements of Sono’s film it feels exaggerated and you’re never sure just how serious you’re supposed to take it (I’m hoping not very). It’d be easy to write Tokyo Tribe off as a little monotonous, at almost 2-hours in length it does seem like a long running time for something of this format, but Sono carries it off with such swagger and confidence, it’s hard not to get sucked into his universe and enjoy the ride. Like his previous feature Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, it’s all a little tongue-in-cheek and although one review I read described it as ‘brainless’, I have to say I enjoyed this frantic, reckless nature of it.
And by the end of the film, I challenge you not to be chanting…”TOKYO TRIBE, NEVER EVER DIE” (and repeat).