Foxy femme mutants, nipple flamethrowers, animal-human hybrids – as Nishimura’s latest film Tokyo Dragon Chef gets released, we explore the work of Japan’s most shocking filmmakers
In Tokyo Dragon Chef, Yoshihiro Nishimura’s endearing underground romp about noodles, an ageing ex-yakuza, Ryu (Yasukaze Motomiya), receives a divine message from the Buddha tattoo on his back telling him to open up a ramen restaurant. He enlists the help of fellow ex-gang member Tatsu (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi), and together they embark on a Sisyphean journey, punctuated with lo-fi gore, epic fight scenes, and campy musical numbers about... ramen.
Between erotic shots of noodles and ample dialogue about beansprouts, men in blood-splattered boiler suits with eyeballs for heads plot to destroy said ramen shop and rid Japan of its yakuzas. Nishimura’s film is deliciously moreish; an unhinged, brothy delight that bubbles with absurdity and slurping horror. Are you feeling ill, or a bit peckish?
With a career spanning three decades, Nishimura has grown a cult following for pushing the envelope with his lo-fi brand of body horror on films like Tokyo Gore Police (2008) and Mutant Girls Squad (2010). Japan’s answer to Tom Savini, Nishimura is renowned for his special effects and vivid make-up: spewing blood sprays and budget prosthetics, mutant zombies, and horrific human-animal hybrids that look like they’ve been dragged straight out of a Lovecraftian nightmare. In this topsy-turvy world of sword wielding cops, mad scientists, and whacky plot lines, Nishimura emerges as a wild eccentric and the king supreme of midnight movies. A veritable prankster, he turned up to the premiere of his 2017 exploitation flick Meatball Machine Kodoku wearing a blood-spattered white jumpsuit and throwing sweets to the crowd. During the film’s credits, he stole the mic and danced down the aisles singing along to the film’s theme tune.
Celebrating the release of Tokyo Dragon Chef, we journey through the horror auteur’s past works. Dip your toe into the crimson pool and say hello to the carnage.
TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008)
Tokyo Gore Police is Nishimura’s splatterific directorial debut about a futuristic, samurai sword-wielding police officer whose mission is to hunt down ‘engineers’ – freaky mutants whose bodies have morphed into lethal firearms. Sure, the premise is mind-boggling, but what Nishimura lacks in a grip on reality, he gains in zany characterisation and buckets upon buckets of fake blood. Nishimura channels Verhoeven and Cronenberg as he melds wickedly extreme mutations – a penis canon, a vulva with T-Rex jaws, and acid-spewing breasts – with satirical social commentary. Fake placards preach the benefits of privatisation, mock TVCs of police advertise “divine punishment”, and ads for suicide projects litter the city. Gooey, hilarious, and, quite frankly, batshit insane, Tokyo Gore Police has all the hallmarks one can expect from Nishimura and his special effects wizardry.
MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD (2010)
A coming-of-age film like no other, Mutant Girls Squad is about Rin, a 16-year-old school girl-turned-mutant, who joins a crew of foxy femme mutants as they embark on a revenge mission against the human race. Flexing his special effects muscles once again, Nishimura shows off a horrific array of deformities, including a girl with swords for breasts and another with a reimagining of the vagina dentata avec chainsaw. Punctuated with moments of low-brow humour and campy melodrama, the carnage is really non-stop, with heads flying off bodies at a rate of several per minute. Think of it like an absurdist X-Men, only with Japanese schoolgirls and a much lower budget.
MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU (2017)
It’s rumoured that Nishimura used four tons of fake blood in the filming of 2017’s Meatball Machine Kondoku. A few scenes into the film and you’ll get it. Meatball Machine Kondoku is a follow-up to Yūdai Yamaguchi and Jun'ichi Yamamoto’s 2005 film Meatball Machine (a reworking of a 1999 film by Yamamoto), for which Nishimura did the make-up and special effects. Here, he takes the the directorial reigns and cranks the splatter up to 100.
With nods to Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, the protagonist Yuji is a 50-year-old debt-collector, whose unfulfilling life is upended by a cancer diagnosis. With one month left to live, and suddenly feeling the impulse to speak his mind, he begins to confront people who’ve abused him – that is, until alien creatures called Necroborgs invade Earth. In typical Nishimura fashion, violence reigns supreme. In one scene, a showgirl grows nipple flamethrowers, while in another, a woman shrieks as her body swivels upwards into the air, chunks of flesh flying everywhere. The line between good and bad taste is a thin, but Meatball Machine Kondoku is bloody wonderful.
Tokyo Dragon Chef is available on digital viewing platforms including Amazon Prime