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Originally released back in 2005, “Meatball Machine” was one of the films to kick-start the current trend of Japanese ultra violence and sci-fi gore which has resulted in the likes of “Machine Girl” and “Tokyo Gore Police”. The film was co-directed by Yudai Yamaguchi (also responsible for the crazed “Battlefield Baseball” and more recently the creepy “Tamami: The Baby’s Curse”) and Junichi Yamamoto, from whose original short film it was developed. Wild and gruesomely imaginative, the film is a distinctly anything goes affair, mixing demented alien parasites and biomechanical mutation with star struck romance, making for a truly unique and entertaining viewing experience. Having built up a well-deserved cult reputation since its original release, the film finally arrives on region 2 DVD through 4Digital Asia, and comes with a host of extras, including the original short films, a making of featurette and more.
After an intense opening scene in which two half human mechanical mutants battle to the death, the film switches gears somewhat, following the hesitant though touching romance between factory workers Yoji (Issei Takahashi, recently in “Detroit Metal City”) and the sad looking Sachiko (Aoba Kawai, also in “Passion”). The road to love is complex enough, though when Yoji discovers and takes home a dead alien parasite left over from the battle things take a turn for the insane. On the night when the two finally manage to get together, Sachiko reveals her scarred body, the result of years of abuse by her cruel father. Before Yoji can react, the parasite comes back to life and takes over Sachiko, mutating her body into a living weapon, designed for combat with other aliens who use humans as puppets in battle for sport, with the winners eating the losers. As Sachiko wanders the streets in search of foes, Yoji is rescued by a strange man (Toru Tezuka, “Ichi the Killer”), who deliberately infects him in order to feed his half-transformed daughter. Managing to somehow retain his sense of self despite his mutation, he escapes and goes after Sachiko, hoping that their love will be enough to overcome the parasites’ thirst for blood.
Basically, what “Meatball Machine” boils down to is a series of incredibly violent and imaginative brawls between weird mutants, interspersed with scenes of heartfelt and earnest romantic longing. Obviously, this makes for a winning mix, and the film comes across as a cartoon version of Shinya Tsukamoto cyberpunk classic “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” by way of David Cronenberg and an episode of “Power Rangers”. Although the budget was quite obviously low, the costumes and makeup effects (from Yoshihiro Nishimura, who also worked on “Machine Girl” and “Tokyo Gore Police”) are all excellent and entertainingly creative, with the characters’ frequent mutations into crazier and crazier weapons keeping the viewer’s jaw firmly on the floor. The gore and viscera fly thick and fast, though the film is neither particularly nasty nor sadistic, being too wacky to take seriously. This works very much in its favour, and directors Yudai Yamaguchi and Junichi Yamamoto wisely choose to inject a little intentional humour into the proceedings, such as through a hilarious scene in which Yoji visits a porno theatre, only to be assaulted by a strange transvestite.
Despite all of this, probably the strangest thing about the film is the fact that its central romance rings true, and is oddly moving, even when the blood and severed limbs are quite literally hitting the screen. Both Yoji and Sachiko are alienated loners and unfortunate victims of society, and their gradual bonding and its rude interruption are effective and winningly without too much cheap melodrama. Without wanting to belie the film with claims of depth, this does add a certain frisson to their death-duels during the last third of the film, and this emotional attachment helps to make for even more crazed fun.
Of course, it’s the violence and bizarre transformations which are the film’s main selling point, and on this score, “Meatball Machine” is an absolute must-see for all fans of wild exploitation and gore. Although it has since been out-done by “Tokyo Gore Police” in particular, it remains one of the best of the recent eruption in Japanese splatter cinema.
Yûdai Yamaguchi, Jun’ichi Yamamoto (director) / Junya Kato (screenplay)
CAST: Issei Takahashi … Yôji
Aoba Kawai … Sachiko
Kenichi Kawasaki … Tanaka