May 22, 2012 (US DVD)
Noboru Iguchi (story) and Jun Tsugita (screenplay)
Tak Sakaguchi, Noboru Iguchi, and Yoshihiro Nishimura
Yumi Sugimoto as Rin
Yûko Takayama as Rei
Suzuka Morita as Yoshie
Tak Sakaguchi as Kisaragi
Asami as Eyepatched Assassin
It’s tough being Rin (Yumi Sugimoto). For some reason, her right hand and forearm have started to hurt on an almost daily basis. Every day at school, she’s bullied and picked on by popular and wealthy kids who are untouchable by the teachers even when they destroy her desk or shove her down a flight of stairs. Things don’t even go right for her on her sixteenth birthday as her father reveals that he’s actually a mutant and that she is too by birth. Just then, soldiers break up her party and murder her family, blowing her mother’s head off and decapitating her father. The stress suddenly causes her right arm and hand to transform into a bizarre claw that she uses to obliterate the soldiers and escape certain death. She flees through a shopping district, taking down everyone in her path, before being stopped by a white makeup-wearing man dressed as a woman named Kisaragi (Tak Sakaguchi) and his associate, another mutant girl named Rei (Yûko Takayama). Kisaragi puts Rin in an iron mask and abducts her. His plan: for Rei to train her alongside other mutants so that they may one day exact vengeance upon the Japanese government and the human world that have oppressed them for so long.
Once upon a time in Japan (about 2010, just hitting DVD these shores this year), there were three directors. Tak Sakaguchi was the star of the cult-classic action-zombie hybrid Versus, the action director on films like Meatball Machine, and would later direct and star in Yakuza Weapon, a film about a Yakuza who loses limbs to a rival boss only to have them replaced with a gatling gun and rocket launcher. Noboru Iguchi was the director of films like The Machine Girl and Robogeisha, later going on to direct movies with such interesting titles as Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead. Last but not least, Yoshihiro Nishimura was a special effects guru who also wrote and directed Tokyo Gore Police and co-directed Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, later going on to give the world the “pregnant zombie with attached baby flail” by directing and co-writing Helldriver. The directors were friends and got the idea to direct a film together, each directing one part. Instead of an anthology, however, the goal was that the final film tell one story throughout. Thus was bornMutant Girls Squad, also known as Sentô shôjo: Chi no tekkamen densetsu. Spawned from Noboru Iguchi’s original story idea to create a version of X-Men involving girls who fight, the movie is presently tagged on IMDB with about ninety-five different keywords and phrases including “Death By Impalement”, “Tentacles”, “Absurd Violence”, “Bloody Spray”, “Birthday Cake”, and “Aardvark”.
Sakaguchi tackled the first chapter (“Awakening”), Iguchi handled the second (“Revolution”), and Nishimura closed out by doing the third (“Rebellion”). In addition, Sakaguchi action-directed and Nishimura provided special effects and makeup for the whole film. Also, it should be noted that all three segments are helped by the outstanding performances of Yumi Sugimoto, Yûko Takayama, and Suzuka Morita. “Rin” is a character requiring both emotional range and the ability to do action sequences, a combo Sugimoto pulls off well. Takayama’s “Rei” is engaging because of her character’s arc in the movie and interactions with “Rin”. Finally, Morita excels as the charming, cute, and fun mutant cosplay nurse “Yoshie” (who also gets emotional and action scenes of her own).
Of the three segments, Sakaguchi’s “Awakening” is the best, finding a balance between the absurd and the serious. In addition, the action sequences throughout the film that he was responsible for are phenomenal. Special mention must be made to the sequence that closes out his own segment in which Rin effortlessly fights her way through a shopping district, culminating in a one-take, no-cut sequence in which she takes on 15 people single-handedly. Iguchi’s section is second-best, featuring great action sequences, outstanding character development for Rin, and the introduction Morita’s “Yoshie”. Its problem, and that of the movie as a whole, is that it loses the absurd/serious balance found in the first segment. This is particularly seen in how many of the other mutants under Kisaragi seem to either have really bizarre, almost nonsensical mutant powers or fall into Iguchi’s favorite category (particularly after Robogeisha) of “bladed weapon sprouts from characters breasts or butt”. Similarly, during a mission Rin must carry out, a few mid-action sequence moments of comic relief come so suddenly that they only feel jarring.
Finally, unfortunately, Nishimura has done a lot better than this. Most of his effects in the overall movie work well, but his particular segment goes too far into absurdity and silliness. It’s still watchable and has a few good moments (Yoshie’s first battle… a great sequence between Rin and Rei), but it feels out-of-place with those of his co-directors. On one hand, it’s partly forgivable because he had to work with the slightly increased comedy he’d been given by Iguchi (and Jun Tsugita’s script) in the segment prior. On the other, the climactic battle features some of his strangest practical and CGI effects and ends up coming across as too far over-the-top, bordering on tedious and trying.
Flawed, uneven, and out-of-its-mind, Mutant Girls Squad is entertaining but nowhere near as good as this subgenre can be. Taken on their own, Sakaguchi’s stellar opening and Iguchi’s good follow-up are reason enough to give the movie a rental. However, Nishimura’s conclusion is so extreme that the experience spirals out of control. As usual, this subgenre is not for everyone, only those with a taste for its insanity, gore, perversities, and arterial spray. It’s still worth a look for its great action sequences and performances from its leads, but the results of the overall cinematic experiment are sadly disappointing.