TOKYO (TR) – Over his more than two-decade career, director Sion Sono has made a name for himself internationally by wrapping his narratives around sexual depravity and violence.
In his latest film, the almost cartoonish “Tokyo Tribe,” the director takes a somewhat lighter approach by mixing gang-turf battles with rap music.
“I wanted it to be entertainment rather than something heavy,” said Sono on Thursday at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
The film, which is based on the popular manga “Tokyo Tribe 2” by Santa Inoue, takes place in a future incarnation of the metropolis that has been divided into 23 rival tribes whose young members communicate by rapping.
“The rapping was part of the script,” said Sono. “So when I was going about writing the actual dialogue it was a matter of figuring out what bits of dialogue that would work as rap. The more I did that, the more it worked. At the start, there wasn’t that much, but by the end of the script writing process it had turned into a rap musical.”
“Tokyo Tribe” is a feast for the eyes: Flashy clothes, flying kicks and clashing swords come together amid a colorful street scape of graffiti.
“In the rap community, the different rappers are split into factions depending on where they come from, just like in the manga,” said Sono. “There are rappers in (Tokyo’s) Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Nerima (areas). So it was quite easy to shift that from real life into the film while using the premise of the original manga.”
“Tokyo Tribe” utilizes the largest budget in Sono’s career, which began in 1991 with “Bicycle Sighs.” The film came through the urging of producer Yoshinori Chiba of studio Nikkatsu, which Sono worked with on the story of a serial killer in “Cold Fish” (2010) and the sexual thriller “Guilty Of Romance” (2011).
Over his career, Sono has garnered a reputation as a director who can be intimidating. Hokkaido-based rap artist Young Dais plays Kai, a member of the gang Musashino Saru, said that he eventually became comfortable with Sono’s approach to filmmaking.
“At the end of the shooting, I started coming up with some ideas, after I had gotten used to it,” said Young Dais, who makes his film debut, “and I said to Sono-san, ‘I think in (a particular) scene I’d like to be more emotional.’ He said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ That really helped me.”
To be sure, the two-hour film is an over-the-top, wild, garish ride that even finds celebrity Mika Kano wielding a pistol, but Sono feels it is suitable for just about any viewer, adding that the family members in one of Japan’s most celebrated manga titles in history would not be out of place in a theater.
“I wanted it to be something that the characters in ‘Sazae-san’ could watch safely,” Sono said.
“Tokyo Tribe” opens nationwide on August 30. The film is also slated to run in the Midnight Madness lineup of the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs between September 4 and 14.