NY Asian Film Fest just wouldn’t be right without a Shion Sono flick. Tokyo Tribe, the maniac auteur’s gangland Hip-Hop fantasy, marks a new highpoint of his career and sets the radical ceiling of this years festival slate. Its hyper-pop Nouvelle Vague sense of abandon had me thinking of Godard’s Weekend, and the adventurous works of his peers, but taken to a wholly original place. Of Shoot The Piano Player (1960) it was said, “Francoise Truffaut is drunk of the possibilities of cinema.” I thought to myself, if that were true…then Shion Sono has overdosed and died from psychotropic-infused methanphetmines, and been reanimated into a bionic human that runs on breakbeats and ultraviolence.
Adapted from Santa Inoue’s Manga/Anime, the Tokyo of Tokyo Tribe oscillates between a caliedoscopic three-ring slum and a Caligula-like opulent underworld of crime bosses. This city is cut into corners run by different gangs that spit rhymes like dialects and tout their superiority. Borderlines are fixed and the code of this territorialism is fiercely defended. Things get dicey when that rule is challenged, people die, battles erupt, insults are made, rhymes are exchanged, a girl is kidnapped and conflict wells up into a full-scale war. Only one of the tribes speaks of love and acceptance, and they become the target of a much larger machination aiming for total domination of Tokyo, led by the worst of the worst, Lord Buppa (played by Riki Takeuchi who makes a clockwork orange’s Alex look like a model citizen). Will savage rivalry win, or can a quest for unity squelch the violence and misogyny to unite the tribes? Consent to the sensory assault and find out!
Sono is a filmmaker ever able to top himself, ever able to saturate his vision just a little bit more, ever able to drive some kind of social commentary through a prism of pure insanity. He also demonstrates an ever-growing sense of control and completeness to his world-building which I can only compare to Wes Anderson on the opposite side of the globe and attitudinal spectrum. Thus Sono’s career follows the law of acceleration, spurred into greater and greater extremity, while Tokyo Tribe as a closed system chooses a full-tilt sprinting inertia and sticks to it until it tears itself apart in the best way. All the while it celebrates a kind of retro-futurist love for hip-hop and cinema.