I consider Yoshihiro Nishimura the undisputed master of Japanese splatter, a man who had moved the genre forward into new and exciting paths through all his roles in similar films, which include Special Effects, Makeup, animation and directing, among others. The fact that he was going to revive 2005 “Meatball Machine” , where he was in charge of special effects, was one of the greatest piece of news for me, and the outcome justified my feelings totally.
“Kodoku Meatball Machine” screened as part of the Asian selection at Fantasia International Film Festival
Yuji is a 50-year-old bill collector and he truly sucks at it, as he cannot get money from anyone he has to, and occasionally he is even stripped from his own. Furthermore, he lives alone, and everyone in his life seems to try to take advantage of him. His boss, his mother, Kaoru, a girl from his bookstore he seems to like who introduces him to a cult, and the members of a sex club who initially draw him in order to comfort him but at the end they beat him and leave him with an exuberant bill. If that was not enough, he is diagnosed with cancer, with the doctor suggesting that he just has a few months to live. A it later, he meets a strangely dressed woman, who encourages him somehow, which makes him more confident and results in him finally managing to receive some money from the people he is supposed to collect from.
Alas, around that time, aliens invade the Earth, engulfing an area inside something that looks like a giant class, and they start invading human bodies, taking control of them and transforming them into NecroBorgs, a kind of biomechanical monster, and attack anyone in their path. Yuji manages to survive the transformation process, as his host is killed by his cancer, and sets on a path to fight the aliens, in order to save Kaoru. A team of martial-artists policemen, who had previously hunted him after he was blamed as a killer after a fight with Kaoru’s brother, help him in his mission.
Nishimura takes a totally unexpected approach to the film, as there is almost no gore for the first 20-25 minutes, with the aesthetics being very close to the ones implemented in Sion Sono’s movies. The scenes in the cult’s “church” and the one in the “massage parlor” are distinct samples of this tendency, although the references to “Tokyo Gore Police” are not missing.
In that fashion, he manages to analyze his main characters, Yuji and Kaoru quite much, for a splatter film. At the same time, he parodies many concepts and tendencies of the contemporary Japanese society. The police and martial artists, who are presented as fanatic jingoists of shorts, with one of them mocking Jackie Chan’s style in both appearance and fighting style, where he uses two stools as weapons. The cults, who just want to take money from the people they draw in, the massage parlors, who do the same in most obvious ways, the relationships between bosses and employees, the way the public misjudges what they witness, since people always assume the worst. Most of all, though, the sci-fi concept of aliens invading human bodies.
After the first 20-minutes, all of the radically different themes come together through violence, gore and extreme action, with the film taking the form everyone is expecting from a Nishimura production. Starting with the metamorphosis, which eventually has almost everyone that wronged Yuji transforming into a Necroborg using weapons according to their previous occupation, and continuing with the killing of innocents (including a kid) and much fighting among the creatures and Yuji and his gang, the film becomes a true bloodfest, where, apart from blood, Nishimura’s extreme imagination and slapstick humor seem to thrive.
The director seems to have had a large budget in his hands, and he allocated it, mostly, in the grotesque costumes, makeup and the SFX, with the action sequences being truly impressive, as much as they are outrageous. Allegedly, Nishimura used four tons of fake blood, a rumor that seems to be true when one witnesses the amount of blood thrown away in the various violent sequences, with the term “bloodbath” actually being modest in describing what is going on.
The production values in the film are among the best ever found in the genre, a tendency usually accompanies Nishimura’s works. In that fashion, Keizo Suzuki has done a great job in the cinematography, and along with the extreme production design by Noritaka Sasaki and Nishimura’s rapid editing, manage to present a film that functions as an extreme music video, particularly in the action scenes and the ones where Takashi Nakagawa’s music comes into place. All of the above combination of slapstick, gore, and sensuality (a minor element in the film) finds its apogee in the scene where Yuki is riding a NecroBorg half naked, in a sequence that is quite amusingly accompanied by a kind of Bluegrass song.
Expectantly, the acting has a secondary role in the movie, but Yoji Tanaka as Yuji manages to present his character’s growing distress in great fashion, particularly during the first part of the film.
“Kodoku Meatball Machine” is among the best splatter films ever made, a movie that highlights Nishimura’s style and extreme imagination in the most impressive fashion, and a must-see for every fan of the genre.