Meatball Machine Kodoku

Meatball Machine Kodoku (Kodoku: Mîtobôru mashin) (2017)

Meatball Machine Kodoku (Kodoku: Mîtobôru mashin) first published by SciFiNow

In 2005, Yudai Yamaguchi and Junichi Yamamoto released Meatball Machine, a strange, superviolent romance in which a young man and woman fall in love, find themselves invaded and overtaken by parasite puppetmasters, and then duke it out (with an assortment of bizarre body-modified metal weapons) in an industrial Tokyo, for the sport of aliens who, like us, look on. Heavily influenced by Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo films and mostly laugh-free, Meatball Machine would prove a bridge between the straight-faced cyberpunk of early Tsukamoto, and the insanely unhinged splatter-core body horror of directors like Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, 2008; Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl, 2009) and Noboru Iguchi (The Machine Girl, 2008; Dead Sushi, 2012). In 2007, Nishimura revisited Yamaguchi and Yamamoto’s man-machine mythos in the 10-minute short Meatball Machine: Reject of Death, and now he returns once more to these materials with his full-blown sequel Meatball Machine Kodoku (Kodoku: mîtobôru mashin).

Middle-aged, dyspeptic debt collector Yuji Noda (Yoji Tanaka) is at an existential crossroads: his heart is not really in his work, his own bank account is running on empty and his days, thanks to cancer, are looking very numbered. So when the whole of Tokyo’s Asakusa District becomes encased in a giant glass jar from space, and spider-like helmets attach themselves to civilians, transforming them into mechanised human hosts whose most beloved objects become their weapons, Yuji is given a new lease on life, and an opportunity to pursue what he really wants. And that is to kick ass, crush skulls and save the girl.

Meatball Machine Kodoku offers a broad if careful introduction to its characters over half an hour, before unleashing them in a rush of mutant metal-on-metal mayhem, crazy kung fu (even ‘drunken master’ technique), rampant objectification of women, and casual racism (as in most of Nishimura’s films, there is a character here who blacks up). It is all deliriously extreme and excessive, yet entirely familiar from just about every other Japanese splatter-core film ever made, right down to the weaponised breasts from The Machine Girl, RoboGeisha (2009) and Mutant Girls Squad (2010). 

If you have never seen this kind of film before, you will not believe your eyes – although if you have, it just seems like bloody business as usual. Meatball Machine Kodoku sweeps along on the madcap exuberance of its own hybrid ideas, offering one sequence after another whose mechanics practically defy description (a woman strips to use her shirt and bra as bridle for a male pervert speeding along Tokyo’s streets on arms that have been converted into a car’s wheels, anyone?). The humour defines hit and miss, and is rather puerile in its wilful offensiveness – but this vision of Japan’s individual and collective unconscious being monstrously realised and given a good shake certainly comes with a great punchline. 

strap: The latest outrageous bubblegum splatter-core from Yoshihiro Nishimura captures Japanese society in a jar.

Anton Bitel