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November 22, 2010

Movie Review – Robogeisha (2009)

by Master Pillow

Noboru Iguchi’s Robogeisha might have had an insane trailer but the actual movie feels incredibly sedate as he attempts to marry a typical Japanese exploitation film with traditional sappy melodrama resulting in a final product that feels incredibly mundane despite the inclusion of slap-happy action sequences.  While it is certainly refreshing to see someone like Iguchi at least attempt to add some needed depth to the various characters it seems somewhat of a misstep considering that an exploitation film relies on every other ingredient from excessive sex and violence to purposely bad dialogue rather than spending hours of film on backstory.

At its heart Robogeisha attempts to weave a tale of sibling rivalry between a mean and boisterous older sister and her shy younger sister who meekly relents to constant physical and verbal abuse. While devoting much screentime to exploring the rocky relationship between them sounds good on paper the execution leaves much to be desired merely because Iguchi keeps going over the same emotional ground over and over again.  It only takes a scene or two for viewers to sufficiently understand that the older sister lashes out at her younger sibling yet loves her no matter what.  The younger sister clues in to this fact yet their squabbling forces each to never admit to their familial bonds.  Thus viewers are treated to scene after scene where the sisters try to hide their true feelings behind blustering insults and soon it becomes grating as there is no emotional growth.  Worse still, while the action is so over the top that most in the audience will never guess what comes next the story is the complete opposite and telegraphs its ending long before the climactic battle begins.

Although it might be reading a bit too much into what is essentially a madcap movie the two sisters begin their long spiral into becoming robots predicated entirely upon their sheer lunatic plan to one up the other.  What starts out as the older sister replacing her breasts with a chain machine gun soon devolves into them both essentially removing all traces of humanity as they become more machine like.  Film school students can have a field day with a topic revolving around the lines of this loss of humanity and it certainly conjures up other Japanese works such as Ghost in the Shell yet here the entire topic is more or less not even touched upon.

Those action fans expecting nothing more than wall to wall fight sequences of escalating madness will actually be quite bored as vast amounts of screen time filled with character exposition take center stage.  Sure, whenever the action does begin it is filled with ridiculousness on a level never seen before but it is just not enough to kick-start the film out of first gear.  That is saying a lot about the overall languid pacing since even shuriken being shot out of women’s asses or katanas emerging from their armpits rarely have the intended effect of waking audiences out of their slumber.  The entire modus operendi of these exploitation films is to keep viewers in a state of suspense and titillate them with the potential for overblown action and while Robogeisha succeeds in being totally illogical it feels inherently forced.

Even the overall violence and gore level seems to be toned down as there weren’t many sequences which features blood splattering all over the scenery.  In fact about the only scene where the camera lingered on physical spurting blood was when a samurai swordsman impales a young female warrior up the ass.  As she lays writhing director Iguchi is content to not pull the camera away as we watch blood spraying from her rear end with such force that we almost expect her panties to be hiding a garden hose.

However, besides this one scene most if not all the blood in the movie is CG enhanced and boy does it show giving the film an inherently cheap feeling as the graphics work is appalling.  Concurrently, there’s not much in the way of sexual innuendo or even mildly titillating scenes except for one where we are treated to the requisite panty shots which seem to mesmerize men to stare in shock and awe.  The film doesn’t even bother to poke fun at itself like in Alien Vs Ninja where the lone female ninja is placed in sexually compromising poses in virtual every scene as the sound track blares out excessive moaning noises as if she is enjoying sexual relations.  However, Robogeisha has nothing of the sort content that having women in two piece bikinis running around is good enough to fulfil this quotient.

There’s only one scene where the film really becomes self-referential as our heroine Yoshie finally confronts the two goblin bodyguards and all three suddenly reveal their secret weapon – a katana which deploys out of their asses and in the film’s biggest laugh the trio all admit that, “This is embarrassing isn’t it?”  Yes, it sure is but it makes for a hilariously overwrought fight sequence as the three women attempt to use their ass swords and their hand wielded ones which results in some really awkward and jerky movement as thrusting buttocks lunge all over the screen.  It’s too bad that most of the other action rarely reaches this level of sheer silliness yet the fact that Yoshie can turn into a half-tank or that the villain’s castle transforms into a giant robot (man in rubber suit of course!) come close.  Special mention though has to go to the giant office buildings which appear to be nothing more than regular structures yet when the robot castle slices them with its sword the buildings burst into buckets of arterial spray as blood washes all over the screen.  Take that reality!

That said the film itself looks like it had a bigger budget than most as the picture quality is quite good with nice colours that seem to pop at least on my Blu-Ray edition although the film’s CG effects range from laughable to plain bad.  Watching Yoshie’s lower half of her body suddenly morph into a tank with treads is akin to sticking pins in your eyes as even video games can do much better.  As fitting most of these films the instrumental soundtrack is simply not something most sane people would listen to on its own as it sounds as if it was ripped from a porno and then remixed with a more disco beat.  If that sounds appealing to you then knock your socks off but admittedly it fits the film’s more madcap scenes well enough.

Robogeisha is more or less what you expect from a modern Japanese exploitation film but it certainly stands out in that it attempts to weave a coherent character arc albeit to the detriment of the overall film.  With so much exposition and down time I have no doubt that many viewers and fans of these types of films might just find themselves reaching for the remote and pounding the fast-forward button.  If you’ve seen the hilariously overwrought trailer featuring an incomprehensible narrator, replete with awful English narration, it basically reveals every single madcap action sequence anyways rendering the entire movie moot to watch.

*1/2 out of ****

2009, Japan, 100 Minutes, Kadokawa Eiga K.K./Pony Canyon
Directed by Noboru Iguchi
Written by Noboru Iguchi
Produced by Naobumi Ashi, Akira Fujita, Kazunari Okuma, Yui Shibata
Executive Producer Satoshi Arashi, Manabu Harada, Takeichi Honda, Hirofumi Ogoshi
Original Music by Yasuhiko Fukuda
Cinematography by Yasutaka Nagano

Yoshie Kasuga: Aya Kiguchi
Kikue Kasuga: Hitomi Hasebe
Hikaru Kageno: Takumi Saitô
Kenzan Kageno: Tarô Shigaki
Kanai: Naoto Takenaka
Kotone: Asami Kumakiri
Suzuki: Yûya Ishikawa
Kogure: Kentarô Shimazu

© 2010 The Galactic Pillow

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