Machine Girl, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/25/08 22:57:15
(Worth A Look)
"The Machine Girl" surprised me a bit, given the companies involved. Nikkatsu Studios has of late been the subject of a traveling retrospective which emphasized its cool, jazzy sixties output, far removed from this kind of in-your-face fare. Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock, on the other hand, is an American company that specializes in bringing this material to the U.S., and appears to be releasing it here unusually soon after (or even before) Japan. In some ways, "The Machine Girl" seems cynically designed to appeal to American fans of Japanese extreme cinema, but despite feeling somewhat calculated, it's also a bunch of fun.The Machine Girl is Ami Hyuga (Minase Yashiro); after seeing her in bloody action during the opening credits, we flash back to how she became a relentless avenger with a machine gun where her right arm should be: Already an athletic girl, she and her brother Yu (Ryosuke Kawamura) were shunned after their father committed suicide after being falsely accused of murdering their mother. Yu and a friend are bullied to death by Sho Kimura (Nobuhiro Nishimura) and his crew, and the police won't help her. Indeed, one of the kids who bullied Yu was the son of the investigating detective, who along with his wife are the first to maim Ami when she comes for help. Ami eventually gains the help of Miki (Asami), the mother of the other dead boy, who trains her while her mechanic husband builds their new weapons, like the machine gun which replaces her severed left forearm. Which they'll need, because Sho's father is a yakuza.
A ninja yakuza.
Whose wife thinks he's too soft.
The story is absolutely ridiculous, of course. And sloppy - the movie flashes back after the opening action scene, but never reaches a point where that scene would logically fit. The motivations in revenge fantasies are seldom complicated, just by their nature, but even by those standards, Ami seems awfully sanguine about how much blood she spills, and she's not alone: Pretty much the entire cast winds up revenge-obsessed killers, none of them seeming to ever stop for a second and think, wait, this is not how civilized people handle their problems. The rationale for considering Ami the movie's heroine is basically "they started it".
The production values are also pretty cheap at times. There are basically no extras. CGI shurikens look like the most expensive effects used, and some of the practical effects are just as ridiculous. I think there's a scene where a character looks less bloody after getting an arterial spray in the face because it's just plain water with food coloring. The Machine Girl is clearly a spoof or pastiche of crappy exploitation films, but that's a dangerous game - it's an ugly thing when a filmmaker aims for sub-par and misses the mark.
Writer/director Noboru Iguchi seems to be one of the rare guys who can pull it off, though. He appears to be a guy who loves his schlock, and never shies from it. The guy who made "Sukeban Boy" is not going to wink at the audience and comment on how silly this all is; he's delivering blood and guts, not irony. It's way over the top - just how does someone puke up their intestines after being stabbed in the head? - but Iguchi almost always hits the sweet spot, where we're grossed out or titillated rather than actually disturbed. Iguchi also doesn't allow the fact that he's making an homage to trash cinema to be an excuse for laziness. There's always some bit of extra craziness going on in the corners, and he gets fairly serviceable performances (both in terms of action and action) from a cast that is not packed with big-name talent.
Minase Yashiro, for instance, is doing her first film. She's not exactly polished, but she brings what the character needs - cuteness and charm in the flashbacks, a spine of steel throughout - so that we buy into and cheer on this girl taking out yakuza she has no business touching. Asami's got a little more experience, albeit in softcore, and while it's a stretch to believe she's old enough to have a fifteen year-old son, she and Yashiro play well off each other; amid all the violence, they're getting something they need from each other. They both look like they can fight a little, too. Nobuhiro Nishimura does well making his bully a spoiled brat, and the actors playing his parents are a stitch - the father (sorry, no English credit) is both put-upon and monstrous, and the mother (Hiroko Yashiki, I think) is a great work of homicidal shrewishness."The Machine Girl" panders to a certain audience, no question about it - a Japanese schoolgirl with a machine gun for an arm wreaking bloody vengeance against yakuza ninjas is first order pandering. Iguchi has the knack for making it fun rather than cynical (although thinking back to "Sukeban Boy", I'm surprised he didn't figure out a way to get more T&A into the film), hitting the target a heck of a lot better than most people making deliberate trash do.
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