Monday, June 16, 2008

Super mourner powers activate!

Hey, I'm as sensitive as the next guy -- twice as sensitive, even -- but when it comes to movie violence, there's a particular type of gleeful, self-conscious gratuitousness that never fails to make me -- to put it politely -- laugh my fucking ass off. When a filmmaker lets me know that he has gone out of his way to show me a close-up of a blood-spraying stump, or holds on a shot of some lovingly fussed-over makeshift carnage for far longer than any considerations of narrative or drama would require, or just goes that one extra step to make some gore effect much more disgusting than it really needed to be, its like a warmly conspiratorial elbow in the ribs that lets me know I'm in the presence of a kindred spirit... and that, yes, it's okay to laugh. A lot.

You'd be right in assuming, as you probably are, that such antics appeal to me because, to some extent, they speak to the most juvenile part of me. After all, these filmmakers I'm talking about, who delight in both piling on and magnifying the gross details of bodily disintegration, do so in the same spirit as those ten year old boys who, when telling a dirty joke, gets so caught up in making the particulars as disgusting as possible that they lose sight of the punchline. At the same time, though, the adult in me recognizes something almost celebratory in the way these movies revel in the spectacle of flesh at its most permeable... as if each is a giddy paean to life at its most messy, and in all its absurd improbability. That we can actually maneuver ourselves through the world in these flimsy sacks of viscera that we inhabit is indeed a wonder, and when I see those vessels so cheerfully rent apart on screen like the offal-filled piñatas that they are, it seems like an acknowledgement -- both joyful and brattily defiant -- of the odds we beat every moment just by staying in one piece.

So far the films I've found most dependable in providing this distinctive brand of feel-good grand guignol include that jaw-to-the-floor kung fu splatter-fest to beat them all, The Story of Ricky, Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (duh), and, of course, more early products of the Troma mill than I care to fit in this space. But I think that The Machine Girl, the Japanese production just released to US DVD by Media Blaster's Tokyo Shock imprint, has earned its place in that pantheon right out of the gate. With a dedication to carnage that defies, not only commonly accepted standards of good taste, but also the laws of physics and human anatomy (more than once I found myself saying, "Wait... that can't come out of there"), this scrappy little upstart goes the distance to prove that it has everything its older, Romero-plundering siblings have and, perhaps, even more.

The story of Ami, a teenage schoolgirl who becomes a revenge-crazed killing machine after her younger brother is bullied to death by a gang lead by a powerful yakuza's son, Machine Girl is in such a rush to get to the red stuff that it doesn't even bother to go through the motions of having an even remotely original premise. Once she is captured, tortured, and literally dis-armed by her prey's father and his goons, Ami is fitted with a prosthetic arm that could double for an anti-aircraft gun and -- thank you, Planet Terror -- ready to get busy. And business, she is very, very good -- what with the many exotic sparring partners Ami's foes throw at her, including shiruken-throwing teenage ninjas, a master of the flying guillotine, and the sweet, not-so-old mother of her brother's killer modeling the dreaded -- but fabulous -- "Drill Bra".

Where Machine Girl does tread some new territory is in how it explores the question of if, as we've seen demonstrated in countless action films before, loss can turn the loved one of a murdered innocent into a vengeance-crazed killing machine, what would happen if the aggrieved loved ones of those in turn murdered by said killing machine were also turned into killing machines themselves? The answer to that question is Machine Girl's "Super Mourner Gang", made up of the parents of the aforementioned shiruken-throwing teenaged ninjas -- all since bloodily dispatched by Ami -- who each wear football uniforms with the photograph of their dead child emblazoned across the chest, and who cry those children's names in anguish as they wield chainsaws and other instruments of mayhem with deadly accuracy against Ami. It's admittedly pretty ballsy for a film like Machine Girl -- that could, with some justification, be described as "gore porn" -- to so savagely lampoon what is arguably at least an equally pornographic aspect of above-the-board culture. But, to my mind, it's on the side of the angels. I'll any day take Machine Girl's rowdy transgressions over that turgid, mainstream media-fueled, fetishization of grief that would so eagerly turn the private suffering of others into kitsch. Personally, I imagine that the Super Mourner Gang's headquarters is inside a giant, teddy bear-covered shrine built by strangers who thrilled to the details of its members' tragedies on the Today Show (or the Japanese equivalent of same).

So, needless to say, The Machine Girl is for everyone. Wait, I mean NOT. NOT for everyone. In fact, if you are in the least bit squeamish, I would recommend running from this one like a sprinter with a bladder problem who's just realized the only available restroom is on the opposite side of town. But if, in reading my above effusions, you've experienced any twinge of self-recognition, I would buy the hell out of this shit. You won't be sorry.

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