Based on title alone, its hard not to admire Meatball Machine. The Japanese cyberpunk, splatter film from 2005 is all about rat-sized aliens, housed in metal shells who invade humans and morph them into man-machine monstrosities. What else would you call it? There is meat. There are balls. There are machines. Gotta' call it Meatball Machine.
Yoji is an introvert who works at an industrial factory. He's so shy he's almost like a fly on the wall, a peon, not part of the rambunctious crowd of execs and co-workers looking to hang out and go out on a tear every weekend. Yoji secretly harbors a crush on a girl named Sachiko from the next factory over. He makes a point of eating his lunch outside so he can watch her in the neighboring courtyard but is too lacking ion confidence to approach her. Yoji finally makes himself known by trying to aide her one night when one of his drunken co-workers is trying to have his way with her. They go back to Yoji's tiny apartment and she confesses her feelings for him and the fact that she is a survivor of familial abuse.
And then the weird scrap metal curio Yoji found at the dump leaps out of his closet and attaches itself to Sachiko, transforming her into a human-machine amalgam piloted by a little alien.
Yes, a typical romantic tale.
Its not quite as abrupt as my description because the film does show the alien battlers before. But, once Sachiko becomes possessed, the pieces begin to fall into place. Yoji stumbles upon a rogue scientist who has been tracking the creatures. He explains that they are of unknown origin and it seems they live to take over humans and battle, surviving by winning the fight and devouring the loser. The scientists own daughter was half-possessed and now he tracks them down, killing them in order to feed his daughter and keep her alive. And, that is just how Yoji becomes a victim himself. Before the transformation can take hold, Yoji resists and becomes in control of this new body, intent to track down his love and save her, be it aiding her in rebelling against the creature controlling her or putting her out of her misery.
Meatball Machine makes some slight nods to the gold standard of cyberpunk films, Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man, but really it is not as concerned with being symbolic (sorry folks, no pneumatic penis drills) and a techno-nightmare reflection of a modern malaise. No, while it has some serious, melodramatic strains, its more an action oriented affair in line with anime or something like a man-in-suit monster battle like The Guyver.
The film is credited to two directors, first-timer Jun'ichi Yamamoto and Battlefield Baseball director Yudai Yamaguchi. The DVD "making of" featurette reveals the reason for two directors was that the low budget film was plagued with problems and when some speedy reshoots had to be done, producer Yamaguchi stepped in to replace ill original helmer Yamamoto. Problems aside, the film still largely works as a cheap, gory, gonzo affair. Its more serious strains feel a bit forced and a tad hard to digest. I mean, when a clunky prosthetic covered Yoji is constantly pleading with Sachiko to regain her humanity and the film cuts to the little alien puppet inside her roaring, well, its not the sort of tug at the heart strings that you can take too seriously. But, you can never underestimate the appeal of transforming bone guns, buzzsaws, and bashers, so, on that end, the film delivers with cyberpunk aplomb.
The DVD: TLA Releasing.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. First, the image is non-progressive, so you'll find a few instances of some jagged edges especially during fast motion in some scenes. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it is, after all, a low budget film. As such, it is pretty noisy, grainy, with some of the earmarks of lower budget production like some grayed contrast and pushed low lighting scenes. It is a bit muddy in terms of color and sharpness, but its forgivable considering the films production limitations.
Sound: Japanese 2.0 Stereo, optional English subtitles. Again, you'll find the marks of a low budget production like some less than well-recorded or overdubbed dialogue. The scoring and fx work is more clean and pronounced. The subs are good, well-timed and appear to be well-translated.
Extras: "Maximum Meatball Machine" Featurette (37:39). -- Original Meatball Machine short (13:00). -- Reject of Death short (10:22). -- Creature design sketches. -- TLA trailers and DVD intro.
First, the "making of" featurette with the cast and primary crew is great. They do an excellent job of talking about the projects beginnings and troubles the production faced. This is a good example of one of the charms of low budget films, being forthcoming about the ticks and tremors of film making. I don't have a clue what "Reject of Death" is, a sequel promo?, a stand alone short?, regardless it is totally awesome. Its basically a really wild sequence that plays to the spirit and mythology of Meatball Machine. Its really out there and, arguably, a tad more enjoyable than the feature film. The original short film is very cheap and has that student film feel, but it is still interesting to see the projects infancy and what bits carried over into the feature.
Conclusion: If you are a fan of the oddball, splatter, low budget, cult film, then Meatball Machine delivers. It is the sort of film I would, stand alone, lean towards a rental, but it is certainly fun enough and the DVD has a couple of good extras, so a blind buy might not be out of the question.