Funimation // 2009 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ike Oden (Retired) // November 26th, 2010
An orgy of WTF...
Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi, Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge) is the ugly-duckling little sister to renowned geisha Kikhue (Hatomi Hasebe, Battle Royale II). Like Cinderella, Yoshie waits on her sister's every whim, while the abusive Kikhue enjoys the spotlight. In fairy tale style, a handsome prince eventually comes to sweep Yoshie off her feet...and enlist her in a corporation-run geisha hit squadron dedicated to ridding Japan of its corrupt politicians. Tapping into her hidden rage, Yoshie closes in on the top spot of her killing peers, but not if Kikhue has any say in it. Kikhue gets implanted with android upgrades to one-up her sister. Yoshie finds out and does the same, thus sparking an explosive RoboGeisha rivalry that's as ridiculous as it sounds.
The boxart of RoboGeisha advertises the film as "From the makers of Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police!" I haven't seen either of those films, but based on their titles I imagine they more or less share common traits: gallons of gore, showers of scatology, sickly sex jokes, and android action, all done in a distinctively absurd, Japanese fashion.
If you're wondering if RoboGeisha is a one-note joke of a movie in the vein of Snakes On A Plane or Snakes On A Train, the type of film that could never fulfill the promise of its title, let me tell you something: RoboGeisha will nuke your expectations faster than a pizza bagel in an industrial grade microwave.
Not only that, RoboGeisha is very nearly a great movie. I don't mean that it's great for what it is or great considering the subject matter; this is a very funny, very clever spoof in the vein of the original Toxic Avenger. In fact, you could make a case for RoboGeisha as the best Troma movie Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz never made.
What sets this apart from Troma is just how well polished it is. The film is very low-budget, wrought with Lawnmower Man worthy CGI, perpetually reused locations, and cheesy performances. These cinematic shortcomings are entirely intentional and only add to the authenticity of the world RoboGeisha inhabits; one where bad CGI blood spray, Kaiju-inspired robot castles, and surreal circular-saw mouthed geishas are daily occurrences. The consistency of stylistic details craft a film as varied and beautiful as the weird Manga and psychedelic drugs that likely inspired it.
RoboGeisha isn't just eye candy, either. Director/writer Noboru Iguchi balances sincerely moving character motivations with gonzo action and ironic dialogue. We care about the protagonist the same way we care about the hero of its equally absurd Western forefather, Robocop. Despite the fact that both films place their tragic, Frankenstein robot creations in the middle of heavy-handed cultural satires, neither film loses sight of their titular character's humanity. This feat is especially impressive, considering Iguchi's film makes Paul Verhoeven look downright restrained in comparison.
And yet, heaps of praise aside, RoboGeisha doesn't quite reach the gold standard of Verhoeven's sci-fi masterpiece. Part of this has to do with its broad comedy. The dialogue contains some of the most absurdly funny lines I've ever heard, but when the film resorts to scatological physical humor, it gets lost in its own immaturity. Characters squirting acid breast milk, wielding butt swords, and getting stabbed in the vagina really isn't as funny as the characters' greatly downplayed reactions to these absurdities. Iguchi lingers on the anarchic immaturity of set-ups too long, stepping on his prime punchlines in the process.
Speaking of immaturity, RoboGeisha carries its crudeness to infantile heights. I'm no prude, and enjoy any joke when it's cleverly told, but too much crudeness for lazy one-off gags is just plain uninspired.
The Troma set, specifically those insane loyalists who covet fart and boob jokes as the pique of filmmaking, will love every second of RoboGeisha, as will thirteen year old boys (I'm pretty sure they're one and the same, actually). Everyone else is advised to stick it out for the good stuff; I'm talking giant robot castles that actually do the robot on Mount Fuji. That kind of cinematic genius doesn't just grow on trees.
The DVD is humble at best. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is crystal clear with sharp detail and no noticeable flaws. RoboGeisha looks like a big-budget action movie with style to spare. I only wish I could say the same of the audio. Instead, we're given a 2.0 stereo Japanese track (with English subtitles), and a 5.1 English dubbed track. I deplore English dubbing and tolerate it only when absolutely necessary, so I skipped the latter. The Japanese language track suited me fine, but I can't imagine why Funimation decided not to remix it in full surround. This is an action movie heavy on style, gunplay, swords and explosions; it feels tailor-made for surround. As a viewer, I shouldn't have to suffer through English dubbing that steps on all the jokes to achieve a full cinematic experience.
Extras are sparse. A mildly amusing, 15-minute short film, Geishhacop: Feasome Geisha Corps Go To Hell is a solid prequel to the feature that manages to tackle the one theme RoboGeisha left unexplored: robot incest. A jaw droppingly bizarre trailer for the feature is also included.
Armpit sword declares, "Not Guilty!"
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film
* Official Site