Those who have seen Higuchinsky's Uzumaki, an adaptation of a Japanese manga of the same name, know that the director has a flare for bizarre visuals and an odd sense of storytelling. His work in that is peculiar, to say the least, but at least it has inventiveness of aesthetic and a gothic sensibility to power it forward. Tokyo 10+01, his follow-up picture that sets out to mock Battle Royale to great lengths, shows what happens when the director's style mixes with the wrong tone and an scattershot, unruly sense of style. With ear-piercing dialogue delivery, ugly visuals, unmanageable satirist characters and a complete lack of grasp on practicality, it doesn't matter that it's supposed to be a "tongue in cheek" send up when we're working with something this gallingly dreadful.
Set quaintly in the unknown time of 2XXX A.D., Tokyo 10+01 (or Tokyo 11, whatever works best for you) finds ten assassins dropped in the middle of a dusty, dark warehouse, passed out and awakening as if drugged. None of them know each other, each of them very odd caricatures of different cartoon-style assassins or thieves: the cross-dressing prostitute who steals from her customers, the school-aged brainiac, the uptight man-hating girl named Coco (Katō Natsuki) with a signature designer brand as her callsign (no bonus points for guessing the brand), and the tooth-and-nail rogue (Eddie) named "Snake" with a scar on his cheek to name a few. They're brought together by a mysterious man in dark -- at the behest of an even more power man named The Baron who pops up on a large screen and perversely strokes a porcelain cat, just like 007's nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld -- to compete in a winner-take-all "simulated" game to the death, where they're rushing to a particular location in 11 hours to collect a prize of 3 hundred million yen.
Those who have seen Battle Royale will be seeped in familiar elements with Tokyo 10+01: the overly bubbly girl on a colorful TV screen giving them instructions about the game, black wristbands replacing metal collars as tracking sensors, and the Most Dangerous Game style of dog-eat-dog nature about the contestants vying for survival -- which, naturally, turns into a real showdown to the death. Yet, it's all done to the degree of a videogame rendition of the storyline, on about the level of integrity as a Saturday Night Live skit. Each characters movement and dramatic poise reminded me of cutscenes from a Japanese role-playing videogame like Final Fantasy or Shin Megami Tensei, rigid and cartoonish. Maybe that's partly a result of the half-interesting visualizations of the futuristic city, which whisper of an echo of creativity behind them. Ah, if only that level of intrigue simmered in the physical picture itself.
It doesn't help that Higuchinsky experiments with the camera in Tokyo 10+01 to almost nauseating levels, blasting our eyes with abrasive contrast and ridiculous nudge-wink style of jokes that likely he and the other crewman on-set thought to be intriguing. Extremely close-ups thrust into the villain's face, then a zoom out, then a diagonal turn, then a zoom out -- lather, rinse, repeat. That's the kind of overcaffeinated style that plagues this backyard experiment of a picture, leaning on the prospect of it being a spoof of a better picture as an unsuccessful crutch. And it never lets up, sprinting forward in an uninteresting, headache-inducing fashion as blood sprays on the screen and death upon death racks up.
It's about halfway through Tokyo 10+01 that absurdity really takes hold, a point where Higuchinsky completely loses my attention. One of the characters, adorned in a tuxedo and electing to cheekily tapdance at sporadic moments in the film, pulls a "Gambit", essentially pulling out a deck of cards and launching them at two guards for a kill. The ludicrous move, equipped with a cheesy flying sequence with the cards, seems to be a signal for Higuchinsky to throw caution to the wind and cram as much oddity into the mix for his own whims. Deaths mean nothing for the rest of the film, with people surviving knife stabs and an array of gunshots, just to tweak the narrative to his pleasing and hammer us along the headcount to the far-foreseeable pair of contestants left at the end.
If things really couldn't get much worse, Tokyo 10+01 ends with a twist that's comprehensible, I suppose, but comically preposterous. It cobbles together a hair-brained conclusion involving the butterfly tattoos scattered throughout the film and the reasoning behind each of the contestants being wrangled together, explaining the rhyme and reason behind the Blofeld villain and the trenchcoated, wild-eyed villain with a taste for red wine. But, ultimately, Higuchinsky has failed to make us care throughout the entirety of his bold little lampoon. It ends in a spiral of bloodshed, incomprehensible to a fault as it approaches its conclusion, and the only reaction mustered as it explains itself is a sense of merciful gratitude that it's finally over.
Video and Audio:
Maybe it didn't help the film's case that Eastern Star's DVD, framed at 1.66:1 and non-anamorphic (click here), doesn't present Tokyo 10+01 in the most attractive of fashions. Grainy, noisy, and just downright drab, even for a small-budget pic, the mostly dark cinematography looks excruciatingly rough and very blurry. Some of the brighter sequences, such as the shots of the announcer girl at the beginning, show off a heightened level of clarity -- though even that is plagued with aliasing. Don't be fooled by the promotional stills on the back of the packaging, because there's nary a shot of clarity that even approaches their quality.
Fairing better, the Japanese 2.0 Stereo track manages to pull of an audible, mostly distortion-free level of clarity. Bold usage of music blasts through the speakers, yet it stays balance against the dialogue to a decent degree. It's an uninteresting mix, mind you, with some special effects like gunshots and knife slices to spice things up, but it suits the picture decently enough. The subtitle quality stands well to Eastern Star's mostly pleasing grammatical levels, but there are several sequences where the font merely stays on-screen for a flash of second -- making it impossible to read.
Very little in the way of special features are available on Tokyo 10+01. Along with a short Promotion (1:57, 4x3) piece, a Speech of First Day (3:40, Letterbox/) that pulls the actors together for their fans to fawn over them at the premiere, and a humdrum Talk Show (5:02, 4x3) appearance from Higuchinsky, all we've got are a few Trailers for Tokyo 10+01 and other eastern Star releases -- two of which are for Uzumaki and Happiness of the Katakuris, both recommended on this end.
Any anticipation generated by Higuchinsky enthusiasts looking forward to a Battle Royale spoof in something of the same capacity as Uzumaki will find nothing but disappointment in Tokyo 10+01. This flick is a ceiling-to-floor misfire of the highest accord, containing stiff, meandering humor and slapdash silliness of narrative. The movie on a whole should be passed, but even Higuchinsky admirers will want to Skip over Eastern Star's lackluster DVD presentation.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site