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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

ROBOGEISHA -- DVD review by porfle

Every once in a while I come across a movie that's pure brain candy, which is the best way I can think of to describe the utterly demented ROBOGEISHA (2009).  To say that it's like a live-action cartoon doesn't even scratch the surface of how deliriously nutty this movie is.

We've seen geishas popping up all over the place in Japanese action cinema these days, but few can compare to these deadly and unpredictable robo-geishas.  Bristling with built-in weaponry, they leap into action with a dazzling array of chest guns, saber tongues, napalm wigs, armpit swords, ass swords, and, in one case, a mouth that turns into a buzzsaw.  But the most startling and unexpected of all, according to their hapless targets, seem to be the dreaded ass stars.  As a dying yakuza warlord complains after receiving a faceful of them:  "Something like this is a sense, it's really unfair."

Kidnapped and turned into cyborg geishas against their will, they act as bodyguards and assassins for Kenzan Kageno and his son Hikaru, a pair of power-mad steel tycoons who are building a giant super-bomb with which they plan to take over Japan.  Into their ancient castle lair come the timid, unsuspecting Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi) and her cruel older sister Kikuyakko (Hitomi Hasebe), a beautiful geisha with romantic designs on Hikaru.  But he's only interested in Yoshie once he discovers that anger transforms her into a super-strong warrior.

After Yoshie defeats Kikuyakko in a forced battle, she's delighted with the positive attention she receives and submits to her captors while her older sister is reduced to menial servitude.  Kikuyakko gets fed up with this pretty quick, however, and undergoes body reconstruction which turns her into a cyborg with a built-in chest machine gun among other modifications.  While the sisters compete for status among the robo-geishas, Yoshie encounters a group of distraught family members who are planning to rescue their loved ones from the Kagenos.  She comes to her senses and decides to help them wage war against the bad guys, including her own sister. 

Scenes of the robo-geishas being dispatched to seduce and eliminate the Kagenos' political and business enemies brought to mind, of all things, AIP's old "Dr. Goldfoot" movies in which Vincent Price creates an army of exploding bikini-clad robot assassins.  I was also reminded of the "Pink Panther" films during a side-splittingly funny early scene with Yoshie accidentally causing great embarrassment to Kikuyakko as she entertains Hikara and his friends.  Some of the other humor and bizarre situations are reminiscent of the similarly ultra-strange BIG MAN JAPAN, which also made good use of CGI to create some delightfully surrealistic visuals.

What really helps make the film so funny, though, is its deadpan mock-seriousness.  The melodramatic conflicts between sisters Yoshie and Kikukyakko are as heartwrenchingly maudlin and emotional as the soap operas of yore, and are played so straight that its almost painful.  Here, the lead performances are perfectly in tune with the screenplay's sensibility.  "I am she who fells festering evil through machinery, the clockwork courtesan," Yoshi intones with solemn conviction right before unleashing her wig napalm.

Much of the other humor comes not from "funny" lines, but from various people stating the obvious with a kind of stunned disbelief.  One victim of the "ass stars" mutters:  "It can't be...they came out of...their asses..."  Seconds away from being sliced to ribbons while in the grip of the buzzsaw-mouthed geisha, another man groans:  "I'm feeling...a lot of stress!  This kind of stress...really hits you later!"

Best of all are Cay Izumi and Asami (who should be receiving my marriage proposal just as soon as I can find somebody to translate it) as the gleefully kill-crazy GobliSquadron, a pair of gorgeous babes with dazzling battle skills and really bad attitudes who give ROBOGEISHA some of its liveliest moments.  Wearing scary masks with long, "erect" noses similar to those worn by the Droogies in Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, they get the movie off to a rousing start as they take on the sword-wielding bodyguards of a political candidate marked for death.  In another scene that had me howling with "WTF?", they shield Hikaru from a vengeful former lover by showering her with their highly-corrosive secret weapon, "Hell's Breast Milk."

While the middle section lags a bit, things really go over-the-top as we head into the final clash between Yoshie and the Kagenos.  Having suffered a major setback (she gets blown up), Yoshie is rebuilt with modifications she isn't even aware of herself ("Incredible!  I didn't know I could turn into a tank!") just as Hikaru unveils his secret weapon, the Giant Robot Castle.  While this towering monstrosity threatens Japan, Kikuyakko attacks Yoshie with new-and-improved cyborg abilities of her own in a climactic free-for-all.

The direction by Noboru Iguchi, who also wrote the script, is a prime example of controlled chaos.  Even the shaky-cam and whiplash pans and zooms are done with the precision of an animated film.  Not too flashy but endlessly kinetic and creative, the look of ROBOGEISHA is colorful and stylish. 

The DVD from Funimation Entertainment is 16:9 with soundtracks in English 5.1 surround and Japanese stereo.  Besides the trailers for this and other Funimation releases, there's a fifteen-minute short film called "Geishacop: Fearsome Geisha Corps--Go to Hell" which is a spin-off of the main feature and is so violent, bizarre, and perverse that you just have to see it to believe it.

After such a gushing recommendation, I should probably take a moment to stress that ROBOGEISHA definitely isn't for everyone.  It's a weird movie and you have to be a little weird yourself in order to enjoy it. As for me, I've already seen it three times!

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