One of the first rules of exploitation filmmaking is that if you find something that works – ie. makes money – then keep doing it. This is certainly the principle that has guided Noboru Iguchi for the past five years. The former porn director achieved international success in 2008 with his splatter comedy Machine Girl and has continued to make films in much the same vein – RoboGeisha, Zombie Ass, Karate-Robo Zaborgar and so on – all ridiculous, loud, gaudy and cheap. They are also made with the overseas market very much in mind, delivering a form of exaggerated entertainment that both satirises and embraces the various stereotypes that exist about Japanese comedy.
Dead Sushi is Iguchi’s latest opus, and it very much sticks to the formula. Keiko (Rina Takeda) is the daughter of a legendary sushi chef, but doesn’t have what it takes to meet his high standards of culinary expertise. She leaves home and gets a job as a hotel maid, a position she is equally inept at. But when the insane former employee of a pharmaceutical company turns up to take revenge on his ex-colleagues who are staying there, Keiko is forced to team up with chef-turned-handyman Sawada (Shigeru Matsuzaki) to fight an onslaught of flesh-eating flying sushi.
Despite the 18 certificate and Japan’s long tradition of transgressive, taboo-busting cinema, Dead Sushi is pretty harmless stuff. There’s a bit of sex and lots of gore but absolutely everything is played for laughs, from the naked girl getting ogled in the spa to the lascivious businessmen eating sushi from the bodies of two bikini-clad hostesses. The visual effects come in two varieties – rubbery prosthetics from veteran splatter master Yoshihiro Nishimura (also the director of the Iguchi-inspired Tokyo Gore Police) and some rather dodgy CG concoctions. The former work a lot better than the latter, allowing Nishimura the opportunity to showcase some inventive rubbery creations – the man slowly getting his face stretched apart by evil salmon rolls was a personal favourite.
All of which works well enough for individual scenes – the many confrontations between man and sushi are often funny and surreal, with energetic direction from the well-practised Iguchi. But for 90 minutes? With a pace that rarely slackens and a tone pitched just below hysterical for virtually the whole movie, Dead Sushi may prove just too relentlessly wacky for some, while the single location and limited cast ultimately works to its disadvantage. Iguchi tries to liven things up towards the end by introducing a fish-headed villain, floating roe battleship (don’t ask) and a bit of kung-fu, but the second half of the film does prove a bit of a crazed slog.
Still, it feels a bit churlish to overly criticise a film so wilfully and proudly idiotic – this is after all a movie in which a character declares: “Things have reached the point where they no longer make any sense!” It’s not exactly a film for subtlety of performance, but Rina Takeda is an engaging lead, a mix of bumbling innocence and brave determination, and her real-life black belt in karate helps lift the film’s otherwise clunky martial arts sequences. If you’ve seen any of Iguchi’s previous films you’ll know exactly what to expect, and maybe that’s enough.
Dead Sushi will be released on DVD and Blu-ray by Monster Pictures on September 23rd 2013.
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