From The Parallax Review Vaults: Robogeisha (2009)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Robogeisha was for the “DVD Insanity” column of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

Each week some of the strangest films ever thought up are released straight-to-DVD and we’re committed to finding the craziest ones out there. They aren’t all going to be winners, but with DVD Insanity, we will strive to bring some attention to the most boundary-pushing, unusual, and just plain wacky films available.

One of the reasons that I wanted to start up the DVD Insanity column is that it would give me the reason to skip through any number of genres that I would normally not check out on my own. While I would probably have gotten around to seeing a movie like Bad Biology, I never would have checked out anything directed by Uwe Boll or watched a movie like Assault of the Sasquatch. But one of the genres that I was interested in exploring was the current trend of over-the-top Japanese horror/comedy/action/sci-fi cheapies that are flooding the DVD market. I’m not referring to the films of Takashi Miike. I consider him a true wildcard when it comes to international cinema and try to seek out as much of his prolific output as I can. I’m referring more to films with terrific titles like Machine Girl, Tokyo Gore Police, and the movie I just watched, RoboGeisha.

Whether I would have ended up watching the film on my own is debatable. Knowing my love for a good exploitation film, I probably wouldn’t have been able to avoid that title for very long. But if this film is an accurate example of what the genre offers, I may be able to avoid the other slickly titled options that I keep seeing on Netflix.

Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi) is the much-loathed younger sister of Kikue (Hitomi Hasebe), a glamorous geisha. While Yoshie loves her sister and privately wishes to become a geisha, Kikue finds the mousy Yoshie to be an annoyance — nothing more than a dog to be kicked when things go wrong. Frustrated by her mistreatment, Yoshie’s anger explodes and she shows off amazing strength and fighting ability. A weapons developer witnesses this and brings her into his organization. There, she joins with a group of other girls who are being trained to become assassins with their targets being the corrupt politicians who are running Japan into the ground.

It isn’t long before Kikue becomes jealous and joins up with the organization. As their sibling rivalry escalates, they have alterations made to their bodies that include such ridiculous items as machine-gun breasts, swords that spring from armpits and backsides, and ninja stars that fly out of very unladylike places. Before long they’re caught up in a convoluted conspiracy that finds them attempting to foil a plot to drop a nuclear bomb in Mt. Fuji.

If this sounds like a ton of fun, that’s because it should be. The movie actually opens with a great sequence that combines exciting action, deadpan humor, and an inventive use of a saw blade. But once the main story kicks in, the film drags to a halt as writer/director Noboru Iguchi labors to set up the prickly relationship between Yoshie and Kikue and force three movies worth of plot into 100 minutes of running time.

Even worse than the overstuffed plot is the smirking tone of intentional camp. I expect a movie with a title like RoboGeisha to be campy, but not in such an obnoxious way. Characters spout obvious dialogue about what’s happening on the screen as though they are all narrators. It’s an unfunny way to comment on the ridiculous plot twists that should be funny enough on their own. I got the sense that Iguchi thought his film was much funnier than it was. It gives the film an odd sense of superiority that I found off-putting and slightly desperate.

The action and gore quickly becomes repetitive and the film’s low budget really sabotages these scenes as pathetically cheesy digital effects become the order of the day. After seventy minutes of such lackadaisical filmmaking, I was filled with a deep sense of regret that I had chosen the film and that I still had thirty minutes left to watch.

This should have been a fun romp, but the smirking tone, lacking action scenes, and too much plot turned watching it into a chore. I can accept exploitation films that are bad with poor production values. But RoboGeisha commits the ultimate sin for an exploitation film: it’s boring.

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