Noboru Iguchi is the sort of filmmaker that I would love to have a conversation with...over the phone. His brand of darkly humorous over the top body horror has to be seen to be believed. After you've watched a couple of his films, you'll understand my hesitation at being within an arm's length of him. Together with Yoshihiro Nishimura, his partner in gore, he has created such splattery films as The Machine Girl, Tokyo Gore Police and Mutant Girls Squad just to name a few. Sandwiched in there and better than most of the films I've already mentioned, is the dumbfounding minor marvel known as RoboGeisha.
At its core, the film is the tale of two sisters and their love-hate relationship with each other. It is also the tale of butt blades, armpit blades, boob guns and geishas that transform into tanks, but we'll get to that in a minute. As I was saying, Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi) and Kikuyakko (Hitomi Hasebe) have a tumultuous relationship as sisters. Kikuyakko is a popular and extremely vain geisha who finds it within her rights to constantly pick on her plain but devoted sister, Yoshie. This all changes when Kageno (Takumi Saito), the president of a steel manufacturing company, spurns Kikuyakko's cultured advances in favor of Yoshie's sweet simplicity. Since you know this isn't a dramatic love triangle, you can guess that Kageno's intentions aren't very honorable.
Kageno sees a fierce inner strength within Yoshie and asks her to join his HiddenGeisha assassin strike force. This makes perfect sense since his steel company is really just a front for a military operation tasked with eliminating corrupt politicians. Even though Kikuyakko is also welcomed into the HiddenGeisha fold, we can see that the tables have already turned. Yoshie is now top dog with her superior physical abilities while Kikuyakko struggles to make her presence felt. Their brinksmanship soon escalates to epic levels as both ladies undergo body modifications and transform into...dun dun duuuun...RoboGeishas. The sisters' struggles are eventually eclipsed by larger conspiracies which threaten the very wellbeing of Japan and perhaps even the world. Go go RoboGeisha !!!
Looking over the above plot summary, it seems a bit too linear and sanitized. I promise you this is only because I am not Noboru Iguchi. In his hands, this filthy and funny tale of warring Geishas is delivered in an elliptical fashion to ensure that the energy level remains high throughout. More than any recent movie, I found myself stunned by what Iguchi and Nishimura (the effects guru) were throwing up (pun intended) on screen. When I wasn't laughing at the sheer audacity of the deliberately fake-looking gore effects, I was quietly mouthing "What the f*ck" at the mind that would think up scenarios where they feel completely at home.
Even though the outlandish gore from Iguchi and Nishimura's previous efforts is very much present, it feels a bit scaled back in favor of laughs. In my opinion, this was a good move. The Machine Girl had plenty of scenes that gave me tonal whiplash. Extreme gore frequently drowned out the inherent humor of the whacky setups. This isn't the case with RoboGeisha. Iguchi has sorted out his M.O. so he elicits laughs and (intentional) groans in equal measure. Since practice makes perfect it comes as no surprise that the film also sports a more polished visual style. The action sequences feature real choreography and don't look like sorry excuses for displaying gushing geysers of blood, although they have some of those as well.
In a film like this, the acting is almost beside the point. With that in mind, the entire cast puts in capable performances. Most importantly, they do a good job hiding their incredulity at the nutty stuff they are asked to do. Despite my overall positive opinion, the film isn't without faults. It occasionally slows down for bits of melodrama between the sisters as they try to make sense of their true feelings for each other. Like blah filling in a crazy sandwich, they detract from the eye-popping sequences surrounding them. I can't stay too mad at the film though. At one point, we watch a castle come to life and wreak havoc on other buildings in the city. Here's the punch line: the damaged buildings actually spray fountains of blood. Buildings spraying blood: if those three words don't help you make up your mind about this film then I don't know what will.
The movie was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image was clear and free of visual defects. The CGI effects and practical gore looked as artificial as they were meant to be but that's part of the film's charm. Altogether, given the source material, I found this to be a more than adequate presentation.
The audio was presented in Japanese Stereo and English 5.1 Surround mixes. I chose to view the film with the original Japanese track and found it well matched for the material at hand. The English track of course brought the rear surrounds into play but due to my preference for original language tracks where available, I soon went back to the Japanese one. It is a bit disappointing that a 5.1 mix wasn't made available in Japanese. It would have helped to fill out the action sequences a bit more. English subtitles were available.
The principal extra was a short film titled GeishaCop: Fearsome Geisha Corps - Go to Hell (16:50). Since it was spun off from the main feature, the short is meant to be viewed after RoboGeisha. Viewed in this order, scenes featuring a certain ass sword and a mini castle robot pack additional unexpected laughs. If they fail to charm you, the short even has light incestuous undertones for the more discerning viewers amongst you. We close things out with an Original Trailer (2:01) and 8 additional trailers for films that are Coming Soon.
RoboGeisha is representative of the current state of Japanese shock cinema. It is packed to the brim and overflowing with blood, guts and lunacy. Director Noboru Iguchi and his game cast look for new ways to mine laughs from queasy ideas of body modification and extreme gore and largely succeed. Don't let tangential bits of melodrama dissuade you from seeing the film through to its insane conclusion. Recommended.