Japanese splatter-fests are everywhere, and I still can’t get enough of them. They’re cheap to produce, highly effective, and just occasionally, lots of fun. Sushi Typhoon – a Japanese production company that specialises in low-budget horror, sci-fi and fantasy – has led the way in recent years, even if its current crop is a mixed bag of ungainliness and goodness. For every Machine Girl there’s a Deadball, but Mutant Girls Squad (should it ever get an official UK release) could well swim in a gene pool of its very own.
The Machine Girl director Iguchi Noboru, special effects guru Nishimura Yoshihiro (Tokyo Gore Police), and legend in waiting Sakaguchi Tak (Versus), join forces for the first time on Mutant Girls Squad – think X-Men on a much lower budget. Mutant Girls Squad tells the story of Rin (Sugimoto Yumi), a 15-year-old (!?!) schoolgirl plagued by bullying and victimisation. Everything changes on her 16th birthday when government Special Forces break into her home and kill her parents. Rin’s dormant mutant abilities are awakened as her arm transforms into a knife-encrusted claw. Moments later, Rin finds herself standing in a pool of blood. I’m pretty sure you can work out the rest for yourself.
It’s not long before Rin discovers she's a member of a race of mutants that can turn their body parts into deadly weapons. I mean really, what else can I say? Body weaponry has been done to death by these guys and yet, they still keep churning out the same old tat. Having said that, I still keep watching the same old tat, so who am I to criticise the team behind Tokyo Gore Police and Robo-Geisha? Rin joins a resistance movement of fellow mutants that plan to use their deadly weapons to fight the threat of extinction. Some of them have awesome abilities (chainsaw ass springs to mind), some of them are about as effective as the dustbin lids dished out in Battle Royale. What follows is overly familiar by now, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the filmmakers are as gifted as these guys.
Each auteur helms one third of the film, with Sakaguchi directing the first part, Iguchi the second, and Nishimura the third. As a result, the completed picture is a little uneven, but it also explains why some parts work better than others. Sakaguchi is probably best known for his role in cult favourite Versus, but he was never truly interested in being an actor, even if he does pop up here in another scene stealing performance. In recent years he has turned his attention to work behind the camera, and his 2011 movie Yakuza Weapon showed signs of great promise. Very much made in the same tradition as Mutant Girls Squad, Yakuza Weapon drips with insanity, invention and distaste, and the fledgling director makes great use of a meagre budget, ingenuity and artistic freedom.
The same can be said for the first act of Mutant Girls Squad. Sakaguchi’s opening chapter doesn’t let up for a second. The first act closes on a delirious high note, very similar to an extended fight sequence in Yakuza Weapon, which finds our heroine taking on all manner of bad guys and breaking them down one by one. Disappointingly, Iguchi’s chapter suffers from a feeling of familiarity, repetitiveness and filler. Surprising really, considering Iguchi’s sublime work on The Machine Girl and Robo-Geisha, which was anything but stale. He’s not given much to work with here though, so it all starts to feel a bit stagnant after a while. Things pick up again when Nishimura takes the reins, which was surprising to me, because I found Helldriver and Tokyo Gore Police a little underwhelming. Having said that, the effects work on Tokyo Gore Police was amazing, and in my eyes, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl is second only to Noboru’s The Machine Girl in the Sushi Typhoon cannon.
The final act is unadulterated mayhem, with bizarre performances, inventive effects and gruesome set pieces running riot all over your TV screen. It’s more of what we’re used to, and some viewers may have grown tired of that by now, but it’s worth remembering that Mutant Girls Squad was made in 2010, and some of the films that followed – already available in most territories – have diluted its power to shock. Mutant Girls Squad doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by The Machine Girl, but it’s certainly on a par with Yakuza Weapon, and for many that will be enough. It would be nice to see these guys venture into new territory in the future, but with Dead Sushi and Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead released recently, I can’t see that happening anytime soon.
Bloody mayhem, body weaponry and Japanese schoolgirls have always been a great combination, even if they are likely to bleed the formula dry before long. A fresh coat of paint would be well advised in the future, but for now, red is definitely the colour. AW