"Tokyo Tribe" reimagines Santa Inoue's manga about a turf war among various street gangs as a hip-hop musical. Against the backdrop of a Tokyo draped with litter and graffiti to a point beyond recognition, gangsta rappers hang tough and talk trash with the flow of pulsating beats about rival posses and ill-gotten gains. It's as if the American hip-hop culture has been fully lost in Japanese translation and skewed as something cartoonish.
Gonzo filmmaker Sion Sono visually references the glitzy neon hip-hop music videos of the 1990s the way that Hype Williams paid homage to Martin Scorsese's stylized mob flicks, hereby completing the circle of meta.
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While the gangsta lyrics and posturing are laden with cliché, there's still some novelty in sustaining a rap narration for nearly two hours. But whenever the music stops, the film can never stay in the game by landing on a figurative chair. During these nonmusical interludes, it stays true to the source material and resorts to perverted and uninspired violence and misogyny.
Seemingly the only reason for the virginal Sumni (Nana Seino) to get mixed up in thug life here is to flash her undergarment every time she does a roundhouse kick that inadvertently lifts up her skirt. In its likewise juvenile conclusion, the film suggests that these mobsters are driven to conquer only to overcompensate for the inadequacy of their manhoods.