Tokyo Tribe - Cinema Review

'Imagine Kung Fu Hustle meets West Side Story via 8 Mile and you're part of the way to envisioning what Tokyo Tribe has to offer'.

The fact that the BBFC describe Tokyo Tribe as a "Japanese fantasy gangland rap musical" in their summary of the film should tell you two things. Firstly, it should let you know without question whether or not writer and director Shion Sono's film is one you'll enjoy or despise; and secondly, it should make it crystal clear that it's completely and utterly bonkers. Imagine Kung Fu Hustle meets West Side Story via 8 Mile and you're part of the way to envisioning what Tokyo Tribe has to offer.

If you're still unsure, then let me clarify: this is a film in which an elderly Japanese woman mixes and scratches on a set of decks whilst declaring that she's "coming to ya from the ass-end of hell"; in which a maid serves tea to her mob boss employer Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) whilst adding beatbox sound effects to her every move; and in which Buppa's son Nkoi (Yôsuke Kubozuka) collects human beings to use as furniture. And that's before we come to the fact that the vast majority of the story is told through the characters rapping in Japanese. That's the level of bonkers Tokyo Tribe both constantly aims for and consistently achieves. That Sono's film will not be for everyone is perhaps the understatement of the year.

The fact that Tokyo Tribe is so insanely over-the-top in both concept and execution doesn't hide the fact that there are notable issues to be endured throughout. The opening half of Sono's film is overlong, overcomplicated and not nearly as fun as you'd like it to be. The director hastily introduces us to several of the twenty three (!) somewhat similar gangs that make up his day-glo fantasy alternate version of Tokyo, most of which then barely feature until the final act. There is a plot here, but its primary function is to tie together the many action and rap sequences that make up the lion's share of the running time. Even so, Sono's screenplay makes the story a muddle of ideas (at least one of which is left completely unresolved come the end) that is regularly quite tricky to follow. The director flashes times across the screen à la 24 to tell the audience how far through the night we have progressed, but it's little help in linking together everything he puts on screen.

Despite all this, the sheer ambitious and unique nature of what Sono has put together in Tokyo Tribe ultimately wins out. This is a genuinely creative piece of cinema that shows the film-maker as someone unafraid to push boundaries and experiment with his ideas. Sono litters his film with entertaining action and fight sequences throughout, building up to the satisfying extended rap battle meets kung fu mêlée that we are treated to during the finale. Tokyo Tribe is never a restrained or refined piece of cinema, and is quite often all over the place; but Sono's clear commitment to making a film with creativity, originality, eccentricity and enjoyment at its centre - plus the simple fact that this is genuinely different to any film you will have seen before - makes Tokyo Tribe undeniably worthy of your time.

Tokyo Tribe is released in selected UK cinemas on Friday 22nd May 2015, and on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 15th June 2015.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.


  1. Highly recommend searching out Sono's Guilty of Romance ( (the longer cut if you can get it - think there is a UK blu-ray). It is basically 'Sono does the Serial Killer Thriller', with everything that entails, a lot of subplots, a decent amount of sex and violence and a lot of neon. I pretty much loved it.

    1. Sono is definitely a director whose work I would seek out again, as I enjoyed many of the aesthetic and stylistic choices he made but also felt I hadn't seen him at his best here. Guilty Of Romance sounds intriguing, I'll definitely keep an eye out for it. It seems like sex, violence and neon are all hallmarks of Sono films based on both of our experiences of his work, and I thought all three worked well in Tokyo Tribe.