Romaji: Mi-tobo-ru Mashin
Release Date: September 23rd, 2006
Running Time: 89 mins.
Director: Yudai Yamaguchi, Junichi Yamamoto
Writer: Junya Kato (Screenplay),
Starring: Issei Takahashi, Aoba Kawai, Taro Suwa, Kenichi Kawasaki, Ayano Yamamoto,
This is an earlier entry in the career of splatter specialist Yudai Yamaguchi. Although he has worked in other genres he is most famous for his outrageous and over-the-top blood soaked action films. This entry plays out like a colourised version of Tetsuo: The Iron Man with a twisted love story at its heart.
The film takes place in a small town under invasion from parasitic aliens. These tiny creatures live in silvery metal balls and attach themselves to human hosts which they turn into necroborgs, hulking monstrosities with weapons that sprout from their flesh. After the transformation, the aliens do battle with other necroborgs in a bizarre death game.
As horrific as that sounds the film gets its dramatic impetus by co-opting a romance into its battle narrative. This arc starts in a factory where a loner named Yoji Muraishi (Takahashi) nurses a crush on a co-worker. He eats his lunch alone during break so he can stare wistfully at the beautiful girl who is named Sachiko Masawa (Kawai).
Sachiko has noticed him as well but Yoji is too shy to act on his attraction. One night he gets his chance when Yoji’s boss Tanaka (Kawasaki) tries assaulting Sachiko but Yoji saves her. This act of heroism gets Yoji’s butt kicked by his boss but Sachiko appreciates the help and takes Yoji to his home where the two take the chance to unburden their romantic feelings for each other. This is when an alien Yoji has hidden in his closet decides to pop out and attach itself to Sachiko. What follows is a horrific transformation which sees her sprout mechanical protuberances, pipes, and other things as she transforms into a necroborg.
Yoji is attacked but manages to escape however he feels guilt over not being able to help Sachiko and so resolves to save her from the alien however he will face all sorts of horrors himself to do so…
Of all the splatter films I have seen this is the most serious one if you ignore the aliens and focus on the sad, solitary lives of the two lovers and their inner-pain. It turns out that the aliens home in on people who radiate negative energy and despite the placid smile Sachiko has a lot of that. Yoji is painfully lonely himself and seeing his chance of love going up in gouts of blood and gore adds pathos to a film which mostly consists of aliens fighting each other.
There is little in the way of humour (I’m not sure if the transgender encounter Yoji has is meant to be funny). The deaths are all tragic (apart from Tanaka’s). The ending is downright brutal and disillusioning, robbing the hero of his conventional dignified ending (despite the silliness of the aliens).
The writing, as is typical for a splatter film, is ultimately a simple framework for the action.
The big attraction for many people seeking out this title will be the special effects worked on by Yoshihiro Nishimura and the necroborg designs by Keita Amemiya, two veterans of the gore-tastic splatter genre.
The aliens are a creepy sight even before they have attached themselves to a human host. Bit-part actor Taro Suwa (who regularly shows up in splatter films) is the first victim, a salaryman who gets attacked by some crazed metallic tentacle thing and the next thing we see him as is a necroborg fighting.
They are weird spider-like creatures crawling out of rivers, cutting a slimey squelching path everywhere. There presence is signalled by the ominous sound of metal cables swinging about as they use their tentacles to lash around. Inside the spider contraption is a little screeching alien which is funny-looking rather than scary. The concept and sight of having ones body stolen is the scary thing!
The sterling special effects work is a mixture of cheap CGI and home-made physical props and costumes with enough character to convince the viewer that there are alien creatures running around. Ignore some of the rubbery looking bits and it comes off as effective, especially seeing humans in horrific hulking metal costumes involving copious amounts of wires, cables, metal spikes, and penile drill-bits. These bits and pieces just sprout out of people and pierce them in sequences that are squirm-inducing because the camera gets up close and into the action and we see the gory details.
It looks painful.
The morphing body-parts and emergence of flamethrowers and guns from arms and chests give the film a demented feeling but more impressive is the sense of pain each of the human victims has considering where the metal goes and comes from.
Anybody with sensitivity to seeing eyes harmed in any way will want to avoid Meatball Machine because during the transformation sequence you do see the eyes drilled through. It’s symbolic of how much control the aliens have over their victims (both eyes means they are in complete control) and also very, very icky to watch.
The cinematography by Shinji Kugimiya, from the well-shot to the one poorly realised action sequence, looks good. Intense action scenes in a junkyard involving two necroborgs and a handheld camera dissolve into chaos with constant shaking and zooms do little to relay the fight and get across the frenzied emotions of the characters. It’s just a bit messy. Other than that the film has a great look and the use of a fuzzy alien-POV shot is a nice touch as we see how they view the world through their necroborgs.
With a body horror aesthetic that is directly taken from Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) complete with chest cannon comparisons between the two films are hard to avoid and Meatball Machine is the weaker of the two.
I think Tetsuo’s aesthetic delivered a much more horrific experience. Tetsuo, shot in black and white with merciless editing and camera angles, and with a story and characters that revelled in ambiguity was an experience hard to cope with and left an indelible mark in my memory. Meatball Machine, being a far-out splatter film with no regard for taste and with a much more conventional with a coherent and somewhat silly story is easier to watch and thus less of an experience.
Meatball Machine is still a decent horror film. The body horror is pretty effective, the art and creature design making for creepy and stomach churning moments. It’s also interesting seeing an early performance from Aoba Kawai after getting to see a great performance from her in the big drama, Watashi no Otoko (2014). Between her and Issei Takahashi they manage to humanise the story even if they are wearing big rubbery suits. Overall, a decent horror movie.
Yoshihiro Nishimura, regular special effect makeup artist on Sono films like Suicide Club, Noriko’s Dinner Table, and Strange Circus, and Exte went on to direct splatter classics like Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl, Helldriver, Mutant Girls Squad and the recent 2015 feature The Ninja War of Torakage.