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SIFF: ‘Kodoku: Meatball Machine’ (review)

Produced by Yukihiko Yamaguchi,
Tomoharu Kusunoki, Yudai Yamaguchi

Written by Sakichi Satô, Yoshihiro Nishimura
Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura
Starring Yoji Tanaka, Yurisa, Takumi Saito,
Miyuki Torii, Yota Kawase, Seminosuke Murasugi,
Masanori Mimoto, Takashi Nishina, Tomori Abe

 

When going into a movie like Kodoku: Meatball Machine a viewer has rarely said, “I wonder if this will be a nice wholesome film?” Of course a viewer could have been lied to by a group of friends and sucked into a swirling vortex of absurdist mayhem punctuated by buckets (and buckets, and buckets, and possibly a firehose) of blood.

One view of the trailer should weed out all but the heartiest aficionados of Japanese Exploitation Gore-Horror.

Those who survived the trailer were sure to be in for a treat. Yoshihiro Nishimura, the director of Tokyo Gore Police and the special effects make-up artist behind such movies as Death Note: L Change the World, RoboGeisha, and the original Meatball Machine gave the audience both a gory spectacle and more plot and heart than one might expect from this type of movie.

While the film was very absurdist and full of gore it had a fairly straightforward plot and drove to an interesting climax. From the trailer of the film I expected that it would be far more surreal, like Tetsuo, The Iron Man, but this was an exploitation gore-fest that provided both the fan-service expected and winks at the excesses of expected fan-service. There was even a tribute to the Jackie Chan film Drunken Master that was very well received by the audience I saw the film with.

The story revolved around a sad-sack debt collector named Yuji, played by gore-horror veteran Yôji Tanaka, whose only solace was buying comedy books on tape from a cute bookstore clerk he had a crush on. The bookstore clerk Kaoru, played by idol star Yurisa, had her own dark past of abuse and had a convenient crush on Yuji.

The first third of the movie followed the various people who made Yuji’s life difficult; like his debt collector boss obsessed with boxing and hitting Yuji to his spendthrift Mom who repeatedly called and asked for money. Yuji was also enticed into a seedy bar where he was tempted by sexy waitresses only to be robbed and beaten. He can’t catch a break as all of the evil people he needed to overcome were introduced to the viewers. Interspersed with Yuji’s story were random encounters with a woman in a green and white plastic dress and hat who dragged a sports field marker around the streets and alleyways of central Tokyo and scenes of a large clear jar that tumbled through space.

The action started when the space bottle landed and an alien swarm attacked many of the people inside and turned them into “Meatball Machines.”

These alien controlled human cyborgs fought each other to the gory end and killed as many uninfected people as they could through the rest of the movie. But that wasn’t the end of the plot. For Yuji had a special quality that saved him from the parasite alien when he was only half converted to a cyborg. This gave him the will and the ability to fight his way through the other alien infested cyborgs to save his Kaoru. He almost saved her a couple of times but bad luck and the need for the movie to have more gore scenes kept her out of his reach. Yuji also had help from some martial arts police fighters who provided a good bit of comic relief between waves of blood and body parts.

One of the interesting things about the cyborg conversions was that whatever the human was obsessed with before the transformation was key to the kind of cyborg they become. This made cyborg Yuji’s battles against a car-cyborg, a scissor-cyborg, a multi-fist-cyborg, and machine-gun-breast-cyborg each unique.

In the end the aliens were but tools for other aliens that explained the reason for the whole invasion in an ending that seemed both tacked on and totally fitting with the rest of the movie. If you get a chance to dive into this movie, you’ll want to stay until the very end. As exploitation gore-horror goes this one was pretty good but probably not destined to be a “classic” of the genre. There was probably too much plot in this movie for it to be a true classic.

Kodoku: Meatball Machine showed at the Seattle International Film Festival 2017 after having it’s US premiere at SXSW. Since you can watch Tokyo Gore Police online at Amazon, I would expect this film to eventually be available there too.

 

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