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Mutant Girls Squad
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by Jay Seaver

"Three crazy directors, one entertaining movie."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Even more than most over-the-top Japanese movies of its ilk, "Mutant Girls Squad" exists in large part due to alcohol and the west: While of the time, one just SUSPECTS that the filmmakers had to be plastered to come up with this stuff and that the end result actually sells more to Americans looking for crazy Asian imports than in its native land, that's pretty much the actual genesis for this project: The directors and producer went out drinking when they visited the New York Asian Film Festival as guests, and decided that they should do a movie together for the next festival. The funny thing is, it's allowed them to play to their strengths and make what is in fact a pretty good movie, as gory action-comedies go.

We start with Rin (Yumi Sugimoto), a pretty schoolgirl who, as her 16th birthday is approaching, starts to feel a pain in her arm. What she doesn't realize is that she, like her father (Kanji Tsuda), is a mutant, with her particular power a hand that becomes a razor-sharp claw. She has trouble controlling it at first, which leads to an incident or two and the government's anti-mutant squad hunting her down. But, there's an underground society of mutants, led by Kisaragi (Tak Sakaguchi). They take her in, have Rei (Yuko Takayama) teach her to control her power, and have "cosplay nurse" Yoshie (Suzuka Morita) look after her until she's ready to take part in the glorious war against the human race. The thing is, Rin kind of likes humans.

Directors Tak Sakaguchi, Noboru Iguchi, and Yoshihiro Nishimura each tackle a third of the movie, in that order, but each has his fingerprints on his colleagues' segments: Sakaguchi handles the action choreography for the whole film, Nishimura covers all of the prosthetics and gore effects, while Iguchi is the credited writer. If you want to make the observation Iguchi seem to get off rather lightly, I won't necessarily disagree. I will say that he and co-writer Jun Tsugita turn in a screenplay that is surprisingly coherent and makes the three main mutant girls sympathetic and motivated without it feeling too ham-fisted. It's not something that transcends its genre and the section that Iguchi directs is, like a lot of his work, unusually obsessed with pretty young girls with mechanical parts, but it gets the job done.

That job is primarily to give the directors insane things to shoot, and, wow, is the film chock-full of them. Nishimura concocts strange and impractal but also pretty cool armor for the government, absolutely bizarre mutations for the (mostly) girls, and when it comes time for the characters to throw down, does a good job of making sure that there are plenty of severed limbs, fake blood, and other mayhem to gross us out. Sakaguchi makes the fights fun to watch, fast paced and not overwhelmed with CGI. He's pretty good at handling the strangeness that his compatriots throw at him, figuring out how to make the mutations work as opposed to finding them something to just shove aside. That's good, because with this trio in charge, the movie is inevitably going to have action scenes where schoolgirls sprout tentacles for arms, swords out of their breasts, and chainsaw blades from their butts.

It's where these guys' movies intersect, and as a result, the movie doesn't actually feel disjointed or gimmicky. The directors have worked together before, and it's clear that they all love this sort of material; though the movie is funny and over the top, it's honest camp, filmmakers making the best splatstick movie they can without mocking the genre. The cast buys into it, for the most part, playing big but mostly stopping short of mugging for the camera. Yumi Sugimoto is a likable lead and a capable enough performer in the action sequences. Suzuka Morita and Yuko Takayama do well enough as her good and bad angels, and Sakaguchi is amusingly nuts as the transvestite mutant villain.

"Mutant Girls Squad" is exactly the movie you'd expect three "extreme cinema" guys from Japan to make after seeing Americans eat the likes of "Tokyo Gore Police", "Be a Man! Samurai School", and "Vampire Girl Versus Frankenstein Girl" up. The good news is, it comes together much better than patchwork movies usually do, with all three filmmakers able to do do what they do best.

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originally posted: 08/21/10 10:59:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2010 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2010 series, click here.

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