Japan (2009) Dir. Noboru Iguchi
Yoshie Kasuga (Aya Kiguchi) is the younger sister and assistant to her elder sister and popular geisha Kikue (Hitomi Hasebe), who has eyes on Hikaru Kageno (Takumi Saito), heir to the Kageno Steel Manufacturing Company. Following a disastrous meeting between the two which was ruined by Yoshie’s clumsiness, the younger sister makes up for her faux pas with her surprising strength and combat skills when defending Hikaru against a mad attacker. The next day both sisters receive an invitation from Hikaru to lunch with him and his father Kenyama (Taro Shigaki) but the date is not to make merry – the evil father and son plan to take over Japan and reshape it into a perfect world, eliminating all competition with mechanised female assassins called Robo Geisha, with Yoshi and Kikue being the next two subjects for training and conversion.
Former fetish adult video director Noboru Iguchi has reinvented himself as a leading figure in the current low budget gross out schlock horror movement from Japan, and like his frequent collaborator Yoshihiro Nishimura (who once again provided the special effects for this film), one knows exactly what to expect from his films, usually with the titles being the biggest giveaway. RoboGeisha is no exception. Over the top deaths and mutilations? Check. Body parts replaced by weapons? Check. Fountains of blood? Check. Whacky prosthetics and make-up? Check. Ridiculously camp dialogue? Check.
This 2009 outing however benefits from a healthier budget than Iguchi has worked with before but the film retains its subversive and underdog attitude, relying on a cast of gravure and AV idols for his leading ladies. Also true to Iguchi’s tried and tested formula is the story structure of introducing our main protagonist then telling their story in flashback form before returning to the present for the climax. While this is often effective and necessary form of exposition Iguchi takes up the bulk of the film with his backstories, when he might as well have made the “origins” as it were of the Robo-geisha the main plot line and drop the length flashback format altogether.
Although largely functional, Iguchi has tried to more emotional depth to the story with a focus on family relationship, specifically the one between the two sisters, serving as the moral basis for the plot. Yoshie is inexplicably tough and possess superhuman strength but is also clumsy and awkward. She also has a heart of gold unlike her snotty elder sister Kikue, whose ego is bigger than her hairdo, treating Yoshie like a slave. When the pair are taken in by the Kagenos, they are forced to fight each other for their freedom, which Kikue relishes while Yoshie balks at the idea of fighting her sister, which soon changes. Sibling rivalry takes over during the training period as the sisters try to outdo each other with the robotic upgrades, with nary a body part overlooked. Proving to be the better of the two, Yoshie is sent out on a mission but refuses when she learns her targets are the elderly relatives of the girls the Kagenos have abducted and turned into RoboGeishas, earning Yoshie a spot on the Kagenos enemy list.
But you just know that however much Iguchi tries to weave a credible and compelling story, it is the inventive, non-PC and frankly bonkers gory action that is the main draw here and this doesn’t disappoint. The opening scene in which a Robo-Geisha and the two Tengu assassins (Asami Sugiura and Cay Izumi) attempt to assassinate a politician using such diverse weaponry as shuriken shot out of their backside (no really) and jets of acid breast milk expelled from, well you know where. Standard fittings for the RoboGeisha includes, sharp blades in the wrists and under the armpits, guns in the arms and breasts and later, the shuriken are replaced with swords for one of the most unusual duelling of the blades you are likely to see on screen.
The coup de grace of the improved budget has to be the giant robot castle which the Kagenos use to drop a huge bomb into Mount Fuji. Once it is activated it goes on a Godzilla-lite rampage through the city, showing there is still life in the old “man in a suit” monster, although if anyone can explain why, when a building is demolished, it will spurt blood I’d love to hear it. But this is an Iguchi film so things like logic and verisimilitude are rarely a major concern.
There is little else to say about RoboGeisha. If you are familiar with Iguchi’s previous work then you know what to expect from it and chances are you won’t be disappointed.