V-Cinema has a fabled history to the Western audience. Under the Japanese studio system, it acted as a training ground where future talent like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike could embrace the international genre spotlight. It is known for frantic schedules, heavy emphasis on shlock effects and plots so thin that you could execute masterful calligraphy with them. And this is why The Machine Girl is so confusing.
I promise you won’t find a better splatter film for the next few months, as writer-director Noboru Iguchi has welded together so many genres—yakuza, revenge, cyber-punk by way of Cronenberg and Shinya Tsukamoto—that the film holds despite a real incoherence. But even at 96 minutes, you feel the strain of the plot. After all, the infamous “gatling gun arm” is used in the first five minutes. But then we’re left with a half hour of build up as to why such a thing exists in the first place.
So, to start, Ami (Minase Yashiro) is the popular, athletic everygirl who even has a pseudo-lesbian stalker. She puts up with her otaku-ish brother, who has, along with his friend, somehow fallen into a high school gang’s extortion scheme fronted by the son of an actual Yakuza boss. Iguchi treats this backstory with care, but not nearly enough to answer the question, “is this a satire or not?”
Sure, a casual viewer of this wonderful crap (i.e. me) could see The Machine Girl as a hilarious send-up of the revenge film mixed with over-the-top visual gags. And I do. But mainly because I’m used to it. A casual viewer, going solely off the infamous trailer, will be sorely disappointed. The fact that the Yakuza family is descended from Hattori Hanzo will delight Kill Bill fans, but will make anyone remotely familiar with the genre burst into laughter. In fact, an appearance by the kung-fu staple flying guillotine is sure to invoke a mixed reaction: on one hand, “awesome!” On the other, “Hah! I can’t believe they’re using that for this.”
It then spills that Ami’s parents were falsely accused of murder, but, out of shame, killed themselves. When Ami accosts one of the bullies’ parents and demands he step forward to admit his crime, the parents turn homicidal and wind up deep-frying Ami’s arm. This drives her to accept her murderous impulses and kill all her brother’s torturers—including the son of the ninja yakuza family. Of course, this is when Girl kicks into its’ weird and wacky action phase.
There are some truly twisted shots: the various parents of the bullies mourning their children’s deaths decide to become zombified killing machines for the Yakuza, each with their child’s photo and name pinned to their chest; a chef must eat his own sashimi—made of fingers; and yes, the drill bra does exist. But by the time it comes into play, we’re moments from the end and it feels thrown in at the last second. The heroine is no longer struggling and it turns out having two spinning breasts thrust into you won’t hurt as much as you think if you’re about to kill someone.
And don’t fret—there is a training montage. It’s all of two minutes long.
The Machine Girl is a mixed bag, to be sure, but it is foremost a shock-shlock film distributed proudly under the Nikkatsu badge—even with U.S. production backing it. And that certainly isn’t a knock, it’s a compliment of the utmost measure. This is for the people who’d like to see Tetsuo as if helmed by Takeshi Kitano and assisted by Miike.
John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E [print only] and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.