Tokyo Tribe Movie Review

Written by Robert Gold

Released by XLRator Media

Written and directed by Sion Sono
2014, 116 minutes, Not Rated
Released on October 23rd, 2015

Shôta Sometani as MC
Riki Takeuchi as Buppa
Young Dais as Kai
Ryôhei Suzuki as Mera
Ryûta Satô as Tera
Nana Seino as Sunmi
Yôsuke Kubozuka as Nkoi
Akihiro Kitamura as Mukade
Shunsuke Daitô as Iwao
Mika Kanô as Erendia



Tokyo Tribe is an insanely energetic tale of territorial gangs that populate a dystopian Tokyo, enjoying a fragile peace until an opportunistic crime lord makes a play to destroy all of his rivals. Loosely based on Santa Inoue’s manga Tokyo Tribe 2, writer/ director Sion Sono (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?) runs with the material in an inspired direction by creating a colorful world where everyone communicates by rapping rhymes over a steady beat. Our omnipotent narrator introduces the top five gangs operating out of various parts of the city in a series of long, uninterrupted takes. The camera effortlessly glides across buildings and into alleys with a grace that immediately informs audiences that this is not a film easily dismissed. Stylistically, imagine if West Side Story and The Warriors got married and had insane twin babies named Moulin Rouge and Ichi: The Killer.

The art direction, production design, elaborate camera moves and impressive fight choreography may all fall on deaf ears to audiences unable to get behind the main hook of the use of music in the picture. I am a longtime fan of Japanese cinema and have enjoyed many films directed by Sion Sono over the years, particularly Suicide Club and Cold Fish. I also love hip hop music of the 1990s, a form prominently recreated by the cast of Tokyo Tribe. This cinematic mash-up is a bit challenging, as the stylized presentation allows the organic nature of the rap battle to play out with a series of call and response time that is at odds with the traditional pacing of a physical confrontation. Another problem with the lyrical beat-downs is the need for anyone who doesn’t speak Japanese to focus on the rapidly shifting subtitles instead of the on-screen action. Audiences capable of bypassing these handicaps and getting behind the meticulous visual style are in for a real treat.


Musician Young Dais serves as the film’s lyricist and deserves special praise for his creativity in writing rhymes that work in both spoken form and written translation. A lot of the material feels commercialized, but considering the history of the art form that is being transposed halfway around the world, this should come as no surprise. Dais appears on screen as Kai, leader of the Musashimo Saru, peaceful party rappers that are all about love, equality and respect. His crew stands out in a city filled with misogynist thugs and gangsta rappers, but only out of script necessity. There are plenty of colorful characters peppered throughout this universe, but the majority of the gang members blend interchangeably and names are instantly forgettable. Crime Lord Buppa (Riki Takeuchi, Dead or Alive) is the main exception to this dismissal, as he is such an over-the-top villain that anyone unfamiliar with Japanese cinema extremes are likely to be haunted by his madness long after the film ends.

Cinematographer Daisuke Sôma showcases the artistry of each production department with a series of long takes that flow uninterrupted through elaborate set-ups involving unruly crowds, shifting weather patterns and fancifully decorated locations filled with vibrant colors. There are some less-than-steady moments within some of the crane shots, but with so much going on, I can let a few bumps in the road slide. Tokyo Tribe is an enthusiastic picture that sets the bar high in the opening shot and maintains the level of commitment for the entire 116-minute running time. The film is definitely an exercise in excess and is certainly exhausting, but I don’t know what material to suggest cutting without harming the flow. That being said, the movie could lose about a half an hour and be all the stronger for it. There is nothing else exactly like this, so I suspect the film will do well on the late night circuit. Curious patrons will want to check it out while even more discerning audiences may wish to wait for the inevitable Bollywood spin.



Movie: 3 Star Rating Cover

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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