Midnight Madness Report: Tokyo Tribe



In Tokyo, the gangs prove their might with baseball bats, rhinestone-decaled guns—and the power of song. Rap songs, to be specific. Director Sion Sono won last year’s Midnight Madness People’s Choices Award for Why Don’t You Play in Hell?—a bloody film-about-making-a-film that follows a ridiculous gang leader who produces a ridiculous movie about a ridiculous gang war—and Tokyo Tribe is no less gruesome. Or ridiculous.


Tokyo is ruled by a series of tribes, each with their own vibe. During an extended musical sequence at the beginning of the film, the various leaders introduce their clans: most of them dig violence and prestige, except the dorky-cool Masashino tribe, who defer to the quainter principles of peace and love. The gangs co-exist in relative calm, until Mera, the g-stringed leader of the Wu-Ronz, takes out a vendetta against Kai, a squeaky-clean Masa kid who prefers giving thumbs ups to death blows. (Though he soon proves himself with a baseball bat.) Also in the mix are Buppa, Mera’s Elvis-esque cannibal father, and the virgin daughter of the High Priest, who also happens to be very adept at high kicks.

To capture an authentic rap-battle feel, Sono cast real-life musicians and street performers, who freestyle their way through the action. (There’s even a DJ on the final battlefield.) Tokyo Tribe is very much a musical, but Broadway-haters should not be put off: within the absurd context of Sono’s imagination, the songs just add a catchy extra layer of insanity.


During the Q&A following the film, Sono explained that he found a lot of his cast through YouTube, including Young Dais, the Japanese rapper who plays Kai. Young Dais, who was present at last night’s screening, said he was excited to be following in the footsteps of rappers-turned-movie-stars like Will Smith, and even sang a few lines of Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” to pump up the crowd before the film. It worked.

And considering that Sono is back at the Festival with such an ambitious project so soon after Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes wanted to know: “How long did it take you to make this film?” To which Sono responded, “Not too long.” Apparently his next feature is a sci-fi monster movie—which he’s already finished shooting—and he’ll be completing five more films in the coming year.

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