TOKYO TRIBE — Why Don’t You Change The Channel [Two Cents]

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Never ever die, Tokyo TRIBE!

Based on the manga and anime series, Sion Sono’s candy-colored Tokyo Tribe envisions an insane, brutal world in which Tokyo is ruled by cartoonish hip-hop slinging gangs whose turfs fall into various districts. With colorful environments, crazy characters, dizzying choreography, martial arts, constant beats, and rapped dialogue, the film bears a unique style and voice, both visually and aurally.

Sono is one crazy director, and his creations are always sure to be draw strong reactions. This is actually his second appearance on Two Cents; we previously checked out — and checked out of — his cold fish Cold Fish, a brutal and mean-spirited yarn that no one could muster much enthusiasm for.

But his irreverent and blood-fueled film-on-film epic Why Don’t You Play In Hell? is almost universally loved among the Cinapse team, so we eagerly awaited Tokyo Tribe when it played the US festival circuit, including Fantastic Fest and NYAFF. It proved to be controversial, provoking exuberant enthusiasm and enmity. Now that it’s widely available, we decided to put this one to the team.

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

It’s gonna be Batman v. Superman when Dawn Of Justice hits on March 25. This film is set to introduce us to the Justice League (or at least its members), and on that note we’re going to check out Justice League: War, which depicts the JLA’s formation in the world of animation (albeit via the gimmicky “New 52” continuity). This should be a fun one to pop on in anticipation of (or as an alternative to) the new movie.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

Our Guests

Trey Lawson:

And now for something completely different. I had no idea what to expect from Tokyo Tribe, as beforehand all I knew was the title and the poster. Going in with virtually no expectations, I have to say I mostly liked it. I’m pretty much right at the center of the Venn diagram for people who might enjoy quasi-dystopian, martial arts action, hip-hop musicals. The central premise is a bit familiar: rival gangs fight for territory in a dystopian version of Tokyo. Yet it avoids feeling overly formulaic due to the highly stylized production design, frequent hip hop narration/musical numbers, and exaggerated performances. Ultimately what drives the film (and made a little uncomfortable for me to watch at times) is the toxic masculinity that infuses the culture of the gangs. This is borne out most obviously in the worst gangs’ treatment and objectification of women, but make no mistake that it is also present among the protagonists and is only a matter of degree. This is countered somewhat by the depiction of Erika/Sunmi, particularly in the second half of the film, but it’s not something that is resolved in the end. Even with that caveat I had fun with this flick, and its genre-bending stylishness and quirky tone seem tailor-made to become a cult classic. (@T_Lawson)

Brendan Agnew:

“If you like musicals, you should watch Tokyo Tribe” is probably not a thing you should say to most people. Not that you’d be lying, because this hip-hop gangland fever dream is definitely a musical, but because you should only give that little warning to people you hate, or those who’s friendship you’re utterly sure of in spite of some serious dicking around.

The word “singular” gets thrown around a lot when people are hard-up for words to describe something of-the-beaten-path and don’t want to resort to “shit is WEIRD, bro!” but it definitely applies to the experience of watching Tokyo Tribe — especially for the first time. On the surface, you’d think that our modern landscape of bended and blended genres would make the story of the warring tribes of Tokyo’s various wards feel less alien, but you’d be wrong. The film changes tone on a dime, carefully builds long-running character reveals into literal dick jokes, and could have its own PROBLEMATIC tag on Tumblr.

But it’s downright intoxicating, assaulting your brain and then burrowing in after with its modern take on Greek Chorus, break-dance lock-picking, theatrical performances, and legitimately sick beats. I found myself infected by this film, unable to shake it in spite of having to take a sanity break halfway through, and by the end, I was “Never ever die”-ing along with the rest of them.

So if someone ever says “Hey, you like musicals? Watch Tokyo Tribe.” Be warned.

…But do it anyway. (@BLCAgnew)

Ryan Bisasky:

It’s one of the most ambitious movies I’ve seen in a while and this is from Sion Sono who seems to be a master at that. A 2 hour rap battle gangster epic that’s also all in Japanese (& 95% of the dialogue is rapped) is not something you see every day. My favorite part has to be the “Oh you’re Kill Bill”, “No, Bruce Lee” bit. It’s on Netflix and if you think you can handle it, certainly give it a whirl. #TokyoTribeNeverEverDie (@TheChewDefense)

The Team


Up until the final moments of the film, I was fully unsure what I thought of the film. I mean… I like hip hop, I like musicals, I like martial arts films, and I like stylized violence… but mashed together, I just wasn’t sure how much I loved it. It’s kinda like how I like pizza, pickles, ice cream, and chocolate covered marshmallows but I don’t want them thrown together in a blender.

However, once Mera began talking about his dick, it all made sense. The following words Mera spoke and rhymes he spit shed light on what this seemingly nonsensical hodge podge of craziness was all about. That’s right… this ridiculously strange and violent film is actually a film about toxic masculinity and the absurdity of war.

Though, I expect many other watching this film won’t agree with the assessment that this film actually is just that. I expect many will find that its message is either accidental or lost in the muck of being exactly what it’s railing against. Either way, this is truly unique film, perhaps one of the most unique films I’ve ever seen… then again, I have watched most of Jodorowsky’s catalogue, so maybe not. (@thepaintedman)


I’m on record as find Sion Sono’s Cold Fish about as worthwhile as genital mutilation (and that might be unfair to genital mutilation. At least genital mutilation has bolstered some horror movies) so it was with some trepidation that I approached another Sono film.

Tokyo Tribe is a major step-up from that other film, bolstered by a cranked up energy, vibrant visual palette, and non-stop narrative invention (by the time they got to the daughter-sacrificing devil-worshiping priest I stopped keeping track). But even as a I enjoyed the movie…there’s just something fucking skeevy about this guy. Within minutes of the movie he’s already had a woman moaning in ecstasy as a guy molests her with a knife, and even as the film rails against toxic masculinity, it can’t stop stopping to grab panty shots of the heroine. When you factor in stuff like the pointed “no homo” lyric dropped by the ‘good’ guys early on, there’s no shaking that this feels like a story told by a douchebag. A talented one, yeah, but there’ still no undouching that bag. (@TheTrueBrendanF)


Like fellow countryman Takashi Miike, Sion Sono is a director with whom one should avoid the art of the blind buy. With such scattershot and varied output, you might as easily love or hate any new film they create. I’m a huge fan of Sono’s previous film, the gleefully bubbly and violent ode to celluloid Why Don’t You Play In Hell. It was pretty well loved so I was excited to see the similarly received Tokyo Tribe.

It’s a shit sandwich.

There’s no denying that it’s certainly got a great sense of style with its neon hip-hop vision of a gang-run Tokyo that’s sort of a bubblegum version of The Warriors. The music sets the tone and the subtitles do a pretty decent job of translating the rapped dialogue (maintaining the rhyming stanzas, but sacrificing the flow).

But no amount of style can fix the fact that this is an immature, relentlessly crass, noxious and overstuffed mess. I especially hated the fiercely overacted, rubbery-mouthed villain Buppa, who maniacally growls every line of dialogue while looking exactly like a Japanese Buddy Hackett (if Buddy Hackett were a cannibalistic, sex-crazed, murder-prone, chronic masturbator).

There’s a decent sentiment where the city’s slightly less awful gangs all team up to take out the really evil gang, but it’s not enough to right the ship (and is, like most of the best parts of this film, cribbed from The Warriors). Interestingly, Justin cited the dick-measuring stuff as the satirical point where he appreciated the film’s message, but that’s precisely where I lost all patience with it.

In conclusion: PPPPPBPPPPPBBBBBBBBTTTTTTTTTTT. And I actually like Buddy Hackett. (@VforVashaw)


I knew nothing about the plot of Tokyo Tribe going into it, what I experienced was a violent assault on my face and mind and I loved every second of it. A Japanese Hip-Hop Opera bringing elements of East Side Story, The Warriors, The FP and Jodorowsky together into a incomparably unique vision. Essentially it is a tale of tribal warfare, various gangs each with their own distinct style controlling areas of Tokyo. Buppa (Riki Takeuchi in gleefully bonkers mode) is the big crime boss who sets out to eliminate all the tribes and take overall control forcing enemies to unite as the city plunges into chaos.

Shot in a neon lit Tokyo, massive multi-leveled scenes, a cityscape rife with character. The utter anarchy onscreen belies what is an incredibly dense, complicated and accomplished technical creation. Incredible choreography, stunning tracking shots, hilarious songs and routines. It is a dense and rich cinematic experience bursting with energy and madness and memorable characters (the beat boxing maid being my personal favorite). It draws from many elements of hip-hop culture including its regressive misogynist tendencies, here exacerbated by some of the more exploitative styles of Japanese cinema, some may be offended but it is a small aspect in a overall accomplished piece. (@Texas_Jon) [Excerpted from Jon’s Fantastic Fest Review]


In an alternate version of Tokyo where each ward is ruled by a different street gang, the various factions jockey for dominance. Also (and I admit that this might be burying the lead a bit), the film is a musical where almost every line of dialogue is rapped. I know, I know: this sounds like a disaster.

I assure you; it is not.

And the reason it is not is due to the relentless level of invention and playfulness on display. Sion Sono is a director of stunning technique and grand ambition. And as such, there’s a joy of filmmaking here, a joy of performance, a joy of pure musicality that isn’t just catchy… it’s downright infectious. The movie is dense with memorable, visually arresting characters, impressively imaginative art design, laugh out loud sight gags, and a pulsing, throbbing hip-hop beat that captures the inherent abandon of hip-hop in as pure a form as I’ve ever seen. “Stylized” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The world Sono creates is a hyperreal wonderland. The sets look like day-glo playsets from the toyline for some long forgotten post apocalyptic cartoon. And through it dance the wildest set of characters seen onscreen in quite some time.

And, for good measure, a geriatric grandma DJ, because why the hell not? (Victor Pryor) [Excerpted from Victor’s NYAFF Review]

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

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