Last yearâ€™s WTF ASIA may have ended with a movie about peaceful resistance, but 2014 is starting out with a bang. Well, several bangs. And slices. This is The Machine Girl. On Hulu for free: http://www.hulu.com/watch/399821
A teenage boy is getting bullied by a group of other teenage boys. And by â€œbulliedâ€, I mean that they put an apple on his head and are throwing knives at it. A teenage girl interrupts the festivities, accuses them of murdering her younger brother, and then chops off part of the main bullyâ€™s arm with a sickle. She mocks his screams, pointing out that she is also missing part of her left arm…despite the fact that we just saw her left hand in an earlier shot, but anywaysâ€¦She is missing part of her left arm, and compensates for it with an eight-barrel machine gun. And she uses that gun to kill all of the bullies. She frees the apple boy, but he is not too grateful at been saved by a cold-blooded murderer. And she is not sorry for being a cold-blooded murderer. I guess that she must be a Shinto. Flashback to six months ago.
Ami is a just your average peace-loving tomboy who loves playing basketball. So, not Shinto, but she is still unmarried. In any case, she still has her left arm. She has an annoyingly girly friend named Yoshie and a younger brother named Yu. And, while Ami loves both of them, she most definitely has no romantic feelings for either. I wouldnâ€™t point this out if the movie didnâ€™t feel the need to point it out.
Anywaysâ€¦Ami and Yu live by themselves, since their parents had committed suicide after being accused of murder. Life is difficult, especially since Yu and his friend Takeshi owe money to a group of high school bullies for the privilege ofâ€¦not getting beat up as badly? The leader, Sho, is not actually interested in getting their money (which he burns) as much as he is in having them suffer. Takeshi rants in his journal about wanting to kill his tormentors, but keeps it secret from Ami. When she asks about a bruise on his face, he claims that he got into a fight with a classmate. Ami scolds him for being violent.
Sho is the son of a Yakuza boss, part of a historic ninja clan. Shoâ€™s propensity for abusing people comes not just from his father, but also from his mother, whom we first see kicking a maid whose throat she just slit. It is around this time that Yu, hiding outside their home, tries to run away. I guess that he was heading for school and then got scared and tried toâ€¦well, whatever happened, he gets seen by the high school thugs who give him chase. He passes by Ami, who tries to run after him too. Unfortunately, Yu gets caught by the thugs and Ami gets assaulted by some older ruffians whom she had bumped into. Ami manages to fight off her assailants and continue searching for her brother. He is not so lucky. The thugs bring him to Sho, who is up in some building. When Sho tells some of his boys to find Ami so that he can make her his toy, Yu gets angry and hits him. Takeshi fights them as well, but it is no good and both of them are eventually thrown off the side of the building. Well, theyâ€™re dead.
The police say that Yu and Takeshi had committed suicide, but Ami doesnâ€™t believe it. She tries to find Takeshiâ€™s parents, who work in a car repair shop. Takeshiâ€™s mother, Miki, did not like Takeshi hanging out with the son of people accused of murder. When Ami comes along asking to see if they could search for evidence that Takeshi and Yu were murdered, Miki is hostile and orders her to leave. Ami returns home in tears and that is when she finds Yuâ€™s journal about his tormentors. She confronts the parents of one of the people whom Yu had mentioned, and the respond with verbal and physical attacks. Well, no more Ami the Amiable. She is going to go on a spree of bloody vengeance. Aaaand at one point, she loses part of her arm. So much violence. Maybe she should have turned to Jesus instead and limited her killing to ducks and snakes. Then there would be no murder. And she should have had an adult husband.
This movie is trash. Utter trash. And I love it.
The title The Machine Girl (or The One-Armed Machine Girl) is kind of misleading. After the introductory scene, it takes a long time for Ami to lose that part of her arm and still some more time before she gets the â€œmachineâ€ replacement. So anyone expecting ninety-minutes of her shooting people with a machinegun will be disappointed. Of course, that would get rather redundant after a while, so this movie holds back for a long time. And even when she does get the gun, she does not shoot people with it all the time. A lot of the violence is through martial arts, swords, throwing stars, knives, chainsaws, large nails, and so on. Fingers get cut, faces get stabbed, heads get chopped off, and torsos get divided. But, yes, when the big gun comes out, it is glorious. The effects are cheap and shoddily presented, and the movie is all the better for it.
Though hardly original in concept or execution, it was the first movie of its kind that I had seen and perhaps the novelty of that is what appealed to me so much. The idea of a sexy young woman losing a limb and getting it replaced with a weapon had been done as recently as 2007 with Planet Terror. And, certainly, Japanâ€™s own Takashi Miike had been releasing all sorts of wild gorefests like Ichi the Killer for years. What separates The Machine Girl from those two movies is how it unabashedly embraces the goofball fun of it all. While Planet Terror was concerned with the cheesy-cool trappings of the old-school Grindhouse fare and Ichi the Killer jumped into the deep end of psychosexual depravity, The Machine Girl kept it light and straightforwardly goofy throughout the scenes of over-the-top violence. It is not trying to be awfully awesome, it is too busy trying to wring out as much fun as it can. If one missed the first six minutes of the movie, one could watch the next (somewhat restrained) twenty-two minutes thinking that this would be some sort of clumsy, but mildly interesting teen drama or martial arts movie. And then the twenty-eighth minute comes around.
Any scene that could be seen as awesome or kick-ass or cool or dramatic or epic gets undermined by the unabashed glee that overwhelms everything. Maybe the elements are there, but when I watch it, I see no wink, no nudge, no smirk, no love letter, no attempt at homages, no spoof, no grit, no rebellion, no shame, no joke; just a violently enthusiastic hug. You might laugh at it, but it just gives you a big smile in return. The actors, particularly the lead, do their best to sell this world and their characters, though I get the impression that they have to go all in with their performances otherwise they would just burst out laughing.
Writer-Director Noboru Iguchi was probably the only person who could have helmed this film for two main reasons. The first reason is his seemingly complete willingness to indulge in every stereotype that Westerners have concerning the Japanese. Ninja warriors, the yakuza, katana, teenage girls in sailor suits, ultraviolence through cheap visual effects, tempura, and an extreme devotion to oneâ€™s family. Granted, there are no monsters, mutants, spaceships, robots, plots of world domination, or magic, but those get saved for other movies of his. I actually liked the limited â€œrealisticâ€ world of this movie if only to have the characters crashing into the boundaries of this world instead of just flailing wildly within a some fantasy world. I would not necessarily say that the movie is catering more towards a Western audience than to a Japanese audience, but Noboru must have known what the overseas Otaku liked. Also, this movie got funding from American companies, so there is that.
The second reason is that Noburo Iguchi had been an adult video director for the previous nine years. This is important because, despite the fact that there is no actual nudity or sex (aside from one scene of attempted rape and another where sex is heavily implied), Ami seems to have sexual chemistry with everyone she talks to and/or looks at. That this chemistry never goes anywhere actually gives the film a hilarious quality on top of everything else. The statements at the beginning of the film that Ami was not going to enter a relationship with either her female friend or her brother must have been a statement of intent on the part of Noburo, because he could have gone there, probably has, and probably would in later films. The characters of Miki and Shoâ€™s mother are played by women who were adult video stars at the time and there was little effort to mask the fact that both of them were way too young to be mothers of teenagers. There is one scene in particular where Ami and another character engage in dialogue that could very well have led to a kiss in another movie, but here leads to an act of bloody violence. Indeed, Noburo knows how we Americans are: prudish about sexuality, but eager for the violence. He has done other non-porn works with nudity, but I think that this questionable attempt at modesty is actually a plus for this movie, something that could be pulled off only by someone who has had true experience with utter sleaze and need not dip into that well all the time. Okay, sometimes he did.
Given the background of some of the people involved, the relatively limited amount of skin that we see is all that we see could be seen as a testament to Noburoâ€™s restraint. But, letâ€™s not go too far. This story was originally going to be about a one-armed girl in a bikini seeking revenge. I guess that budgetary restraint meant that it was easier to hide an arm under a shirt or a fake gun than it was to CGI it out. I feel the need to point out that that the schoolgirl sailor shirt in the movie covers her midriff, if only barely. There are times in the movie, though, when that doesnâ€™t really matter anyways. But donâ€™t worry. If you get the remix DVD, you will be blessed with a 22-minute short film called Shyness Machine Girl or Machine Girlite. It features Amiâ€™s annoying friend, Yoshie, though she is slightly less annoying than in the movie and much more ridiculous. I am not sure if it was made in between filming of the movie or afterwards, but this short is even cheaper, trashier, stupider, and sensless..er than the movie. And, not to give anything away, but it turns out that a certain Phil Robertson was wrong about what a certain thing has to offer.
After watching The Machine Girl, I decided to check out other films by people within Noboruâ€™s circle. A few came before, such as Sukeban Boy and Tokyo Gore Police. Others came afterwards, such as RoboGeisha, Mutant Girls Squad, Yakuza Weapon, and Deadball. I enjoyed a couple of these, but I guess that the novelty wore off a bit. I am not above enjoying a crazy trashy movie now and then, but the stupid silliness of these did not seem fresh to me anymore. They just reminded me more of the Z-Grade Troma vaguely unpleasant attempts at â€œso bad that itâ€™s goodâ€ tastelessness than a genuinely fun romp. These â€œguilty pleasuresâ€ gave me little pleasure and the flights of creative fancy did not really impress me. Oh, the building is bleeding…well, okay, I guess that thatâ€™s new. I am not even going to attempt to watch Horny House of Horror or Zombie Ass. I did try going beyond these folks into the more â€eroticâ€ side of over-the-top violent action comedies, but I found them to be either boring like Big Tits Zombies or absolutely infuriating like Undead Pool.
Perhaps I find The Machine Girl to be more enjoyable simply because it was the first one that I saw and that I did not have to compare it to the others. Still, I do believe that it has a certain charm that the others lack. And it is that charm that made the bad effects and the awful violence work so well for me. Perhaps that was the only thing. I wonâ€™t say that I would not enjoy it if its tone had been slightly different, but I doubt that I would enjoy it quite as much.
This movie is stupid fun and that is it. I make no excuses for enjoying it, let alone enjoying it as much as I do. If you dislike it or find it to be no more enjoyable than a bunch of other movies that are somewhat similar, that is fine. As for me, I find it to be special. It is probably due to a combination of elements within the film and maybe my lack of prior familiarity with the genre. Whatever it may be, I understand whether someone else does not get the appeal or the particular appeal of this movie to me. I explained it as best as I could at this time. Now, all I can do is watch it again.
Next Time: Red Cliff I and II (China: 2008 and 2009, approx. 145/140 minutes).
Time After Next: Attack the Gas Station (South Korea: 1999, approx. 120 minutes).