❉ We look at the spanking new release of this Japanese cyberpunk splatterama.
Certain countries are rather revered for their splatter films for all the guts and gusto they put into their output – Germany for one really pride themselves on their DIY splatter output with films from Jorg Buttgereit and Andreas Schnaas among a whole list of others. Italy obviously set a trend and influenced generations of budding horror film makers with their gore renaissance of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It has to be said though that no nation does splatter quite like the Japanese. Japanese splatter is more than just limbs getting ripped off. It’s limbs getting mutated, transformed and mutilated in absurd and fantastical ways that are no less shocking and disgusting and it really becomes a yucky form of surrealist art. Who could ever forget the ‘Guinea Pig’ shock-o-ramas Mermaid in a Manhole and The Flowers, Flesh and Blood or the visceral Argento-tinged Evil Dead Trap for all their incredibly creative ways of literally ripping people apart.
In the case of 2005’s Meatball Machine though, we have splatter very much in the tradition of the Shinya Tsukamoto’s legendary cyberpunk sensory assault Tetsuo: the Iron Man. The film shares a lot of similarities with both Tetsuo and its sequel Tetsuo II: Body Hammer in that a weedy protagonist is transformed and mutated horrifically into something big, clunky and destructive with very messy results.
An unknown parasitic alien race is lurking on Earth and are latching themselves onto human matter – transforming them into bulky killing machines that merges flesh with bio-mechanical devices. We have wiry tentacles bursting out with breakneck urgency, arms becoming cannons and extra cannons protruding from chests, unique characteristics such as mini window wipers to clear away the ever-flowing claret. It is very much live Manga but the mutated half-human, half-alien creatures put me in mind of the ‘Tyrants’ seen in Resident Evil 2. On their shoulders are little silver spheres, inside which are the alien parasites themselves who are rather entertaining glove puppets sat in a fleshy bubble like little angry embryos.
Watching the development of these creatures take their place on their latest human host is really icky and creative to the point of being abstract. Several shots I found myself wondering what the ruddy ‘eck was even happening but that only plays into the effective chaos of the experience. We first see two of the hybrid creatures in a battle with each other right at the off during an opening credits sequence setting the scene for a feature that won’t be wasting any time. The parasitic attachment onto human host is fully demonstrated first with an unassuming little kid – which is a completely nihilistic and blackly humourous way of saying that these film-makers are going straight for the jugular. It doesn’t last long before said kid is mangled into pieces and it isn’t the only time we are treated to a child getting nuked in the film. Those who are sensitive to such things in film best skip this one.
The story playing alongside all this carnage is actually a love story. Our protagonist Yoji is shy and quite frankly, a drip. He works at a factory in a drab and joyless existence. He has his eye on an equally shy girl called Sachiko who is sensitive and has been hurt before. He watches her from afar. His more confident player mates try to push him into making a move or to just get laid in general. Our man is too sensitive for that so decides to split when his friends saddle him up with a prostitute. On his way home he finds the girl of his dreams being set about by a man in an attempted rape. His attempts at intervening aren’t too successful when he gets himself beaten up but nonetheless it causes the man to flee and for him and Sachiko to finally be brought together. He takes her home what follows is a sensitive and sweet courting of the two which goes horrifically wrong really fast when Sachiko finds herself the latest host of the parasitic alien intruders, and not long after – so does Yoji.
The remainder of the film sees the couple together but altered, and in battle, transforming aggressively and making meatball meat of each other – with the alien parasites and human shields stuck between them. It’s all out of love in this completely twisted meditation on relationships and the social awkwardness of communication. The film’s characters are kept to a minimum – the sole focus being Yoji and Sachiko in a film where their human forms being compromised is only the beginning for them. We have another couple who happen upon Yoji during his transformation who offer up some musings (exposition) on the nature of the creatures and where they came from. The film may not have played out as initially expected but at least it flew by.
The love story focus at first seemed at odds with the carnage surrounding it but it all made sense soon enough and was very much the point. There’s enough wince inducing splatter to keep our gore-hound appetites fed, even if some of the effects are much better than others. I’d quite liked to have seen more of some of the gore gags but I suspect some were compromised out of budgetary reasons. Some would say that Meatball Machine is a calling card for its special effects artist Yoshihiro Nishamura; the ‘Japanese Tom Savini’ but he was already well established in his field of SFX and also a director in his own right. He would go on to direct and serve up the grue in dozens of shorts and features such as Tokyo Gore Police (2008) and Meatball’s eventual sequel Meatball Machine Kodoku (2017).
It was strangely nostalgic and nice to see a film shot on digital video that came before the world of HD and 4K changed the landscape forever. The lo-fi digital look has wound up becoming an aesthetic of its own even though it really wasn’t even that long ago! Terracotta Distribution pride themselves on bringing us the most yukky lo-fi Japanese imports – one of their more outrageous and left of field being the super8 Evil Dead riffer Bloody Muscle Body Builder in Hell (2012). Meatball Machine is bound to please all lovers of hysterical cyber-punk splatter-thons and live action Manga monster mashes.
❉ ‘Meatball Machine’ available on Blu-ray (Collectors Edition) & Digital from 12th April 2021. Click here to order now: https://amzn.to/3myKsDt. Starring: Issei Takahashi, Shôichirô Masumoto, Toru Tezuka, Ayano Yamamoto. IMDb.
❉ Thomas Lee Rutter is a director and editor, and creator of Carnie Films’ folk horror short Bella InThe Wych Elm (2017), acid western Day of the Stranger (2019) and upcoming feature The Pocket Film of Superstitions (2021).