Thursday, August 1, 2013

Meatball Machine(2005) Movie Thoughts

You know, seems like a periodic inevitability. There never seems to be a season without running into at least one often micro-budgeted piece of contemporary tokusatsu schlock. And now, here we are. And this time around, I'm finally beginning to question the reasons beyond the economic feasibility factors in why such films have been so pervasive over the last decade plus. Because they certainly weren't quite so plentiful in those heady days before the Machine Girls and Sushi Typhoons of the world. And in the angsty in-betweens of the post-Evangelion/J-horror navel gazing, it seems perhaps telling that a great many of these productions seem more interested in the craft of the FX, and the veracity of the violence than in presenting a compelling world or story.

And then I watched Meatball Machine..

In all seriousness, I had considered avoiding this title for much longer. When in the days after Pacific Rim, it felt important just to watch something far more on the serious side, or just plain disposable. And I am fortunate to report that I have been more than successful in catching the latter.

Yudai Yamaguchi & Judai Yamamoto's Meatball Machine, is an early entry in this generations sprawl of said practical FX romps which explores the life of Yoji(Issei Takahashi) a lonely, possibly mentally troubled factory worker who's life is complicated by an invasion of seemingly alien parasites. Creatures with a nasty habit of attacking and soon after, inhabiting the bodies of human hosts in the name of visceral combat in VERY public places. All the while, we share Yoji's troubles as he is forced to endure what has become a staple in a great many of these films; a cast largely populated by either perverse scum, or hyperviolent sociopaths. (Yes. They are different in these cases.) His romantic life is nonexistent, until the girl who he fawns over near his job(Aoba Kawai) notices him. And it is only after one night where he is beaten severely by a transvestite, that things truly go haywire when he runs across a larvae form of the creatures, and inexplicably takes it home.

What ensues from here, can be telegraphed from oceans across as characters are soon possessed by the creatures, fights in abandoned streets become de rigueur, and secrets are revealed in an oblique, often hasty manner. And while the film (which is based on an earlier film by Yamamoto) does take a little time in displaying the life of the story's "antihero", it never finds itself in any proper groove to make the monster work worth anything beyond a rough demo. And while there are some fun nods to FX classics such as Carpenter's The Thing, there's very little here outside of a moment that so easily could have made the piece work on a memorable level.

Perhaps I should explain: It involves the inevitable meeting between Yoji, and Sachiko (his "troubled" intended), and it is a scene that must have been seen as the potential high point. What begins as a potentially tender moment, is one that ends in sheer horror. And it's a scene that begs to be rendered in a much more effective fashion. But the problems are multi-fold for this scene, and it's a terrible shame that it fails as egregiously as this does. Things are bad enough since the buildup to this scene is pedestrian at best, but when it finally comes to when the scene must come to a head, the emotional wanting of the scene goes into helplessly creepy territory, granting it no ability to hit potent speed. The scene so badly wants to go from tender to disturbed to outright nasty within a matter of brief minutes, and it is numbing at best. The very idea of attempting three very disparate tones in one scene without an understanding of basic human reaction makes for one frustratingly lost opportunity. And while one could argue that this one scene is perhaps the one with the most potential for thematic heft, it is dashed so harshly by its overall ineptitude. It merely ends up a vacuum, drawing one more into their seat, wondering when the next spec of dust will fly by over our eyes..

The saddest part about all of this, is that the creature effects here are effectively weird and repulsive. Heck even the sound design for the monsters is unique and troubling. And it's pretty clear that a great deal of enthusiasm went into the design and construction of them. One can even see a bit of Tsukamoto within this which is a plus. Even so, Meatball Machine doesn't find itself out of feeling as if the creatures and gags were the primary reason for this film's existence, and the story came almost dead last. As a result, this weirdly rough prototype of a piece has little to offer in the way of convincing those unfamiliar with the subgenre that it would be worth near ninety minutes of their time. And for those who are, it may only offer up sensations of the kind of existential nothingness that these films seem to be so concerned with.

Perhaps that's the point? 

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