Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Machine Girl (aka Kataude mashin gâru) (2008)

Over the past decade there have been dozens of films that have intentionally courted a cult fan-base. Often presented as tributes to the exploitation films of the past, the comparative low cost of producing DVD has meant that video rental stores are packed with low-budget off-the-wall films reveling in explicit sex and violence in an attempt to capture this specific segment of movie-goers.

This is nothing new. Troma has focused on this audience for decades. But in recent years; particularly in light of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino Grindhouse collaboration; things have taken a turn for the silly. More influenced by splatter comedies like Evil Dead II and Bad Taste than the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Machine Girl appeals to the basest desires of fans of cult cinema. It's loud, ridiculous, and incredibly excessively violent.

It should be noted that Machine Girl was at least partially financed and distributed by Tokyo Shock, and was obviously designed to capture the audience that enjoys the films released through that label such as the early films of Takeshi Miike and The Story Of Ricky (Machine Girl's closest cousin in terms of content and style).

The ridiculous gore is fastened to an only slightly less ridiculous plot. Ami Hyuga (Minase Yashiro) is an average student, raising her slightly younger brother Yu (Ryôsuke Kawamura) who finds himself (and his friend) terrorized by some rather sadistic bullies. The head bully is Sho Kimura (Nobuhiro Nishihara), the son of a Yakuza, and after Yu is unable to placate the bullies with money, his friend and him are murdered. Ami decides to get herself some bloody revenge, which ends with her being captured by the Yakuza family and her arm severed. Taking refuge with the parents of her brother's friend, they fashion an ARM MACHINE GUN(!) which she uses against junior-high aged ninjas(!) before heading out for some old fashioned ass kicking. And also there is Tempura Arm, and a drill bra, and sushi fingers, and a guy gets all of his skin shot off. Oh, and there's a flying guillotine!

Ok. So, that plot summary gives you a sense of what you're in for here. Lots of Japanese women (often in school uniforms) kicking ass, and rivers of fake blood shooting out in every direction. The characters in the film are not human beings as much as they are highly pressurized blood cannons, a severed arm leading to gallons of the red stuff pouring out. But, the mega-gore of the film comes at a price.. the effects are often quite shoddy. While there are mountains of severings and beheadings, they are never close to convincing, and the gunfire is often distractingly fake looking. While a necessary evil in a film such as this, it can't help but become a bit exhausting by the film's end. The choreography of the film's fighting is also quite poor, though is almost always immediately followed by some incredibly graphic special effect that makes you forget about it.

The direction (by Noboru Iguchi) is quite stylish and kinetic considering what must have been an incredibly low budget. There are, however, some blatant continuity errors that take away from the fun. The opening scene features our one-armed-heroine jumping into the air and revealing both of her arms intact, and landing to show her missing an appendage. The soundtrack to the film is also distractingly sparse and non-descript.

The acting is a mixed bag, but generally quite good. Minase Yashiro acquits herself admirably in her first film role, and she's required to act fairly straight compared to the over-the-top madness of the Yakuza baddies. Porn Star Asami (as the mother of Yu's friend) is particularly impressive, and seems to revel in the excess on display.

The Tokyo Shock DVD features the film in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image is often quite grainy and shows a great deal of noise, though this may be a stylistic choice on the director's part (or simply reflective of the budget). Audio is available in both an English Dub as well as the original Japanese with English subtitles.

The film has surprisingly few extras, though a ten minute behind-the-scenes featurette is a lot of fun and shows the significant amount of work the (often inexperienced) actors and actresses had to put into the production. We're also treated to trailers for The Machine Girl, the Shaw Brother's classic Heroes Two, Death Trance, Zebraman, and the Lone Wolf & Cub television series.

A flawed exercise in cultish excess, Machine Girl will delight fans of gory classics like Braindead, but too often is let down by it's limited budget and meager story. Still, a perfect party film to be paired with The Story Of Ricky.


Ash said...

I have to admit that I haven't watched all of this yet. When I was scanning it it looked like it may have had as much in common with the Power Rangers as it does with Grindhouse. Also, the styrofoam-ness of the gun arm was a little disappointing. Still, I didn't pick it up looking for quality, so I'll definitely get around to it.

Doug Tilley said...

It's all very.. disposable. Even the gore isn't the sort of thing you would be likely to go back to, and while it's ridiculous it's not always as fun as it thinks it is.

It's worth watching.. But, it would be a lot more fun with other people.