Original release: January 1st, 2008
Running time: 110 minutes
Country of origin: Japan
Original language Japanese
Director: Yoshihiro Nishimura
Writers: Kengo Kaji, Sayako Nakoshi, Yoshihiro Nishimura
Cast: Eihi Shiina, Itsuji Itao, Yukihide Benny, Ikuko Sawada
What prompted me to watch Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police was realising that actress Eihi Shiina took the lead in the film. She’s not been in many films and I had only seen her in Takashi Miike’s horror film Audition (1999), but that one performance of a shy girl with unimaginable predatory violence raging beneath the surface made me remember her. I wasn’t drawn to the film because of the promise of massive amounts of gore – it was more like in spite of the gore if anything – as I’m not a big fan of the genre. In fact, I have trouble understanding how gore has come to have its own genre in the first place. While often an inevitable ingredient of horror, gore without fear or some other meaningful thematic frame is not generally something I find interesting.
However, Tokyo Gore Police was quite a lot of fun. Gore is depicted in a somewhat cartoonish way – although still very hard for the stomach – and is put in a satirical context that gave me many uncomfortable laughs that I subsequently felt guilty about. It didn’t take me long to point at the screen and shout “Starship Troopers!” due to the frequently shown TV commercials heavily influenced by Paul Verhoeven’s science fiction satire; giving glimpses into a society that is indifferent to violence.
The primary sources of dismemberment and other exciting activities in the film are mutant human creatures called “Engineers” who have been infected by a virus that causes them to ‘grow’ strange weapons from any injury inflicted on them. The only way to kill these monstrosities is to cut a key-shaped tumour in the brain in half – until then, they have the ability to turn injuries like the cutting off of limbs to their advantage. To deal with this growing problem, the Tokyo Police Force has been privatised and morphed into a semi-military organisation that can be just as much a threat to citizens as the Engineers. Eihi Shiina plays Ruka, a troubled loner and valued member of the Police Force due to her exceptional skills at eliminating Engineers. She’s haunted by the assassination of her father, who was also a police officer and one who opposed to privatising the police.
Tokyo Gore Police is an unpleasantly entertaining film with so much violence that I only just realised how much of it I blocked out when watching the trailer and a few excerpts online to remind myself of the film. It’s really fast-paced with ears, jaws, fingers, limbs and even male genitalia flying around after being severed. There is no shortage of weird ideas either; the police chief’s (Yukihide Benny) companion for instance is a quadruple amputee. She’s his sex slave, dog and also a vicious body guard when her four severed limbs are fitted with four deadly samurai swords.
The ‘Verhoevenite’ TV commercials embrace and profit from a desensitised culture advertising products like an extremely violent version of the game console Nintendo Wii with a samurai sword controller that a happy family uses to slowly and cheerfully kill a tied-up, screaming man – one cut for mum, another cut for dad and many more for the kids. In this shocking world of black comedy, wrist cutters are also available with cute design and pretty colours for adolescent girls who want to cut themselves. Even Ruka cuts herself when not hunting down Engineers; revisiting the last moments she saw her father alive.
Fans of gore will be happy to hear that I only managed to describe a small portion of what Tokyo Gore Police has on offer in terms of stomach-churning ideas graphically visualised on screen. I haven’t mentioned, for instance, the crocodile-girl without nipples – but I’ll leave that to you to deal with. There’s a lot more – if gore gets you going, you will get going. But I do think that the film is more than just a gore fest to dare some and please others.
Lot of the violence in Tokyo Gore Police is used for satirical purposes, to exaggerate and then mock a fast-paced culture in which the flow of information is constant, accessible and some of it is also questionable. While it’s easy to recognise and oppose this casual pop culture violence in its exaggerated form, are these fictional commercials and the climate they seem to generate all that different from the likes of Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle in the real world?
Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.
Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.