Within moments I could tell that Tokyo Tribe was going to be unlike anything I had seen before. Music was blaring out over a Tokyo street at night, young people rushing about, and as an elderly woman scratched a record our narrator began to rap. This is the world of Tokyo Tribe; one of testosterone, violence, glamour, and hip hop. Based on a popular Manga series by Santa Inoue Tokyo Tribe is no simple adaptation; it is a two-hour rap musical extravaganza about warring gangs in a near-future Tokyo.
This is a film of endless extremes without any respite from its barrage of loud, bright, unashamed chaos. I was sleep deprived going into the screening but left with my mind buzzing as images from the cavalcade of cinematic excess flashed through my brain. While jarring at first once Tokyo Tribe settles into its stride the enthusiasm it has for its unique brand of storytelling is infectious. All that was left for me to do was to sit back and take it all in, occasionally shaking my head in disbelief.
The film is not perfect and does struggle with pacing and with its female characters. This is a man’s world where most women are left in the background and occasionally feature as literal set dressing. As with everything else in the film depictions of misogyny are turned up to eleven and it can be hard to tell whether the film is portraying misogyny or simply perpetrating it. That said the stand-out performance of the film comes from Nana Seino as the mysterious Sunmi who turns her role as a potential victim on its head and fights back with more force that her stature would suggest possible. Nana Seino is terrifyingly good and delivers a display of incredible skills across the film’s demanding range through acting, martial arts, acrobatics, and rap. Seino is my hero.
Director Shion Sono has created something completely new with endless creativity. The Japanese action hip-hop musical is not a genre you can prepare for and if nothing else Tokyo Tribe will surprise anyone who dares approach it. Whether or not it then succeeds to delight you depends on how easily you manage to embrace the madness and give in to a film that takes control and doesn’t hold back.
I think I loved it but I may just be suffering from PTSD.
Tokyo Tribe is on limited release in UK cinemas now and available on DVD and Blu-ray from 15th June.
It has to be seen to be believed though I can’t promise you will comprehend it.