The great thing about the Toronto After Dark Film Festival is that its programming is much more than horror films; it’s also a mix of sci-fi, action and the just plain weird. RoboGeshia is certainly a mix of all four of those areas and much more done quite brilliantly.
There are just certain types and styles of films where you go, “that only could have been made in Japan.” Japanese filmmakers have a unique creativity that filmmakers from other parts of the world just seem to lack in comparison. They mix outlandish humour with sex and violence that somehow works when it is all put together. One of the best examples of this brilliant cinematic insanity is RoboGeisha .
After a rousing introduction that sets the tone and atmosphere, the film is told in flashback by the RoboGeisha named Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi). Yoshie is the clumsy attendant to her older sister, Kikue (Hitomi Hasebe), who is a Geisha. She and her sister are abducted by a steel corporation to turn them into robotic assassins. The son of the company chief, Hikaru (Takumi Saito), uses the sibling rivalry to make the sisters compete and try and be even more powerful than the other. Soon they are being operated on, installed with robot parts and becoming half-human cyborgs. Eventually they start doing assassinations for the company, but soon find out the targets are not who they think they are . Yoshie has a moral crisis and re-thinks what she has become and what she is trained to do.
There are a couple of surprising things about this film. First off, I was surprised at how well made it is. The special effects are very good, the camera work is ingenious and dare I say – it actually has great cinematography. Secondly, I actually cared for the characters. The film at its core is both about sibling rivalries and how some women will change and manipulate their bodies due to bad self-esteem and the need to be accepted. Having said that, this film is designed (and meant to be) a comedic, idiodic romp, which it achieves brilliantly. It also has a really fun music score by Yashuhiko Fukuda, although I swear the main theme has been lifted somewhat from Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”.
Director Noboru’s career started in Japanese adult “pink films,” but in a weird way it makes sense that it has lead to this unique style of filmmaking. The humour at times is so outlandish, you’d almost have to be a porno director to come up with all the different ways you can use body parts like this; in that case it was for sex, this is for weapons. RoboGeisha is the fourth mainstream film by director Noboru Iguchi, who previously directed the action film The Machine Girl . That film became a cult favourite with North American audiences and I have no doubt that this will be a big underground favourite as well.
One of the other great bonuses of the After Dark Film Festival is the program of Canadian shorts to open each of the feature film sections. Each short selected matches the feature of the night. (For example, zombies short with a zombie feature and so on.) The selection for this evening was Junko’s Shamisen . It tells the short story of girl avenging the death of her grandfather in feudal Japan by a samurai. It is told in the style of a Japanese fairy tale mixing live action, kabuki theatre and illustration/animation elements. Although he has worked on many other films and music videos, this is director Sol Friedman’s debut film and he does an excellent job. The audience at the Bloor Cinema seemed to agree and applauded right through all the closing credits. When Sol Friedman finally does a feature, he is a filmmaker to watch out for.