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A Beginner’s Guide to Tokyo Shock Cinema

August 30, 2013

FYI: This should be treated as NOT SAFE FOR WORK.   So don’t come complaining to us when your boss peaks over your shoulder to your monitor and sees an Asian schoolgirl with a sword or blood raining on people (see images below).  That’s on you!  This is a horror post about an exploitative subgenre.  I can’t make everything PG.  LOL

I was at a horror convention in 2011 and was shocked at how so few of the hocked-DVD vendors had heard of this unique flavor of horror-action.  As such, I felt the need to inform you all of these intentionally disturbing-to-most movies.  This piece is meant to introduce virgin readers to Tokyo Gore Shock, or Tokyo Shock.  This emerging subgenre really seized my attention when I was blessed by Tokyo Gore Police (2009), which features a mutant hunting chick in a school girl outfit with a sword!

But I first saw the slower-paced, more plotty Machine Girl (2008)–about a school girl with a gun for an arm who avenges her family’s murder–which I also loved despite its being far less exciting than Tokyo Gore Police.

It’s just that Tokyo Gore Police had a much happier marriage between apparently low budget, weirdness, and consistent stimulation by shit I had never seen before.  Other titles representing the subgenre are Meatball Machine, Samurai Princess, Robogeisha, Psycho Gothic Lolita,Geisha Assassin, Vampire Girl versus Frankenstein Girl (2009), Helldriver (2010), Mutant Girl Squad, Dead Sushi(2012), short films from The ABCs of Death (2013) and many others.  The writing, direction and special effects are largely done by the same gang of people–a handful of directors and loads of FX guys.  What do they do together?  Essentially they take the gore tactics of Dead Alive, usually swap zombies for ninjas, mutants or cyborgs, and add goofy fight choreography.  Often it appears that they nightmared up a large to-do list of interesting ways to kill someone or to die and compacted them all into a screenplay.

Some colorful scenes from Vampire Girl versus Frankenstein Girl

Unlike most movies produced with lower expectations than summer blockbusters, the previews for these movies are very straightforward.  I have loved most trailers, and subsequently most movies (at least, of those listed in this article).  If you saw and enjoyed any one of these movies, then see ALL of the others.  These filmmakers give us viewers exactly what we want.  At the same time, you will know right away (from the trailer) whether or not this style of movie is for you.

Tokyo Gore Police received an average rating of 4/5 stars (44 reviews) on Amazon.com.  Some of the 3’s read as if they viewer loved the movie, but were just tough critics when it came to doling out ratings.  That said, don’t trust these ratings to compare one such movie to another unless you’ve taken the time to read them.  Of course, such movies should probably not be compared to The Remains of the Day or My Left FootTokyo Gore Police stars Eihi Shiina.  I first saw this actress in Audition, a more typical non-supernatural Japanese horror movie.  She plays Ruka, a member of a privatized police force charged with handling some intriguingly protean mutants called “engineers”.  Naturally, the uniform for this task is that of a Japanese school girl.  These engineers are genetically modified and mechanized weaponry forms whenever and where ever they incur tissue trauma.  These ostentatiously rubber-prop-grafted cyborgs offer a strong nod to Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989).  The mutant F/X were ridiculous…ly awesome.  Seeing each new installment of these villains made my dark soul smile.  Also, inserted into the movie are “commercials” featuring twisted things like suicide accessories and recreational remote murder via videogame console.

Vampire Girl slits her wrists and forms Wolverine-like retractable swords made of hardened blood and tendon.

Where character and plot development are found wanting, rubber guts and action more than compensate.  More for the gore than the action, I find myself comparing these movies to action anime known for arterial sprays.  The gore also serves as a fine device to distract viewers from the lower budgets.

Here, guerilla tactics help the F/X team circumvent the clearly low budget in Meatball Machine.

The low budget is obvious at first, then forgotten once the action sequences begin and your romance with the silliness has engaged.  These movies offer troths of entrails.  At times, it feels like off-camera filmmakers are simply jettisoning rubber intestines and gallons of Hi-C in front of the camera with reckless abandon.  What can I say?  It completes me.

Three different movies sharing the same message: they like to make it rain…blood!

These movies feature many effects and props which would typically only be discussed around a table of drunk or high college kids.  Some examples include genitalia modified into projectile weapons, breasts which spew acid or have teeth or are modified into power drills, chainsaws arms, disembodied hands which are shot from a gun to punch or strangle their targets, snail-centaur women, and sex-slave gimps with machine guns or sword blades for arms AND legs.  Some of the scenes feel a bit like a hybridization between a BDSM sex show and a freak sideshow.

Keeping in good stride with the generally exploitative nature of this subgenre, the bad guys tend to be oddly modified evil women.

The fight choreography may not measure up well compared to Hong Kong action cinema.  Depending on the movie, serviceable to deplorable (e.g., Psycho Gothic Lolita) representations of actual combat may be observed.  However, because the characters and their weapons are often interesting or comical, so is the choreography.  Do I think that some chick with her lower body modified into a giant crocodile mouth can use this mutation effectively in a fight?  Absolutely not!  Does that suggest that I enjoyed seeing her try to use this mutation as a weapon any less.  Absolutely not!  If you have a bra with drills on the breast cups, you’re damned right I expect them to be pressed upon someone to their perverse detriment.  Not a typical kung fu move, but effective when it comes to entertaining me.

A common phrase in this family of movies, but expect to see fights with elements that you “have never seen before”.  Tokyo Gore Police enjoyed the talents of action director Tak Sakaguchi, who worked on Versus (2000) and Shinobi (2005) (neither movie is related to the Gore Shock genus, but both were VERY good…see them).

These movies, more flicks really, are just plain cool.  If you can stomach them, chances are quite likely that you’ll love them—all of them.  Even the more serious ones are over-the-top and, in my opinion, it is NEVER to their detriment.  They are extreme and quite explicit in general.

I say this about a lot of movies, but one should probably not be introduced to this type of movie without alcohol (but only if you’re 21 or older, kids!).  I’d say more than just a buzz before it starts and safely outside the ballpark of forgetfulness by the end.

These movies aim to disturb and often include very bizarre and/or violent sexual scenes, violence to and/or caused by explicit body parts which may or may not be weaponized, torture, satirical suicide, and violence against women and children.  I read a Tokyo Gore Police review on Amazon.com (0/5 stars) in which the unhappy customer suggested that “you would have to be very sick person to get enjoyment out of watching this film. This film is more disturbing than any film I’ve ever seen in my life.”  To that I have two things to say.  ONE, nothing shocks me anymore.  If nothing shocked you after years of horror fanfare, this should be fine.  I playfully call myself sick, but I still haven’t stored any human organs in my freezer nor have I worn someone else’s skin as a suit.  I just laugh (with delight) at the Saw and Cube series.  This genre was simply the next step.  If you laugh at the same things I do, then take the same step.  TWO, definitely not the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen in my life—I’ve seen Salo, The Human Centipede, Necromantik, Red Room, and I Spit on Your Grave.  Perhaps all more disturbing, yet not that disturbing…to me.

Reviews for these movies on Amazon.com typically warn that these movies are “not for everyone”.  I couldn’t agree more.  While I strongly advocate that if you like one of them, you’ll probably like all of them, I must say that many will like none of them.  These are for lovers of “gore porn”.

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A warning to consumers who try my favorite flavor and start buying my brand…Tokyo Gore Police has been released twice in America.  Once with no featurettes, and again with featurettes.  Machine Girl has now been released three times following the same pattern, with more material in each subsequent release.  This sales equation will likely become a trend with these Japan (and other countries)-to-America genre releases.

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