Meatball Machine DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
DVD released by TLA Releasing
Directed by Yudai Yamaguchi and Junichi Yamamoto
Written by Junya Kato
2005, Region 1 (NTSC), 90 minutes, Not rated
DVD released June 5, 2007
Issei Takahashi as Yoji
Aoba Kawai as Sachiko
Ayano Yamamoto as Michino
Meatball Machine is one of those movies where you really need to read the back of the DVD box in order to understand exactly what's going on.
And even having done that — and watched the entire film — I'm still not sure I can describe the plot with 100 percent accuracy.
The short version is, it's true love interrupted by armed-and-armored, alien-infected combat.
But of course, the film by Yudai Yamaguchi (director of the sports-gone-strange movie Battlefield Baseball ) and Junichi Yamamoto has that uniquely Japanese sense of… what I'll call quirkiness.
Which is to say, it's fucking weird.
But in a good way.
The main character, Yoji (Issei Takahashi), is a factory worker who's probably "guy most likely to shoot up the place." He loves the tormented Sachiko (Aoba Kawai) from afar, but just as he's about to put his move on the quiet, scarred girl, she's taken over by an alien parasite and converted into a hulking "necroborg."
The necroborgs — which are cool in concept and, miraculously for a movie clearly made on a shaky budget, pretty fine looking, too — battle each other like back-alley gladiators for reasons unknown.
They are forged from their human victims in a burst of blood and tentacles that progresses straight through the attachment of some heavy-metal weapons and grotesque flesh reshaping, and ends with special lenses being drilled, in all their nauseating glory, into the unwilling hosts' eyes.
Then the parasite connects to the body's central nervous system internally - via a strangely homoerotic effects sequence - and sends its creation into battle from inside a little metal "heart." With the victor turning his opponent's parasite controller into lunch.
Undoubtedly, the 'borgs are both the film's hook and its finest hour.
The problem for our hero is, the transformation appears to be permanent, and poor Yoji is left with only one way to "save" Sachiko — put her out of her misery.
Remember that part about Yoji being drone-most-likely-to-go-postal? Well, when he and a mysterious scientist run afoul of yet another parasite, he has the weapons to either save Sachiko or bring her pain to an end.
The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the necroborg combat that precedes and follows, with weapons ranging from flamethrowers to metal fists to a giant cannon, with blood flying by the bucketload. The 'borgs are inventive in both looks and combat style — one even has a little windshield in front of his face to keep the blood out of what's left of his eyes — complete with a little windshield wiper to keep it clean.
And scenes like that are what keep Meatball Machine — which is sometimes tongue-in-cheek and sometimes completely out of control, as in the scene where a transvestite beats the hell out of Yoji after a failed pickup attempt at an adult theater — entertaining through its fairly quick 90-minute runtime.
Because whenever the film ventures dangerously close to seriousness — a sick daughter who needs the parasites' flesh to live — or simply stops making any sense whatsoever, that's when Yamaguchi and Yamamoto throw in another over-the-top, blood-spraying brawl.
Meatball Machine may be tough to explain, but it sure is fun to watch.
Video and Audio:
The anamorphic widescreen image is generally bright and clear. It's also soft, grainy and plagued by faint mosquito noise. Like most of TLA's "Danger After Dark" imports, the bulk of the flaws are most likely the fault of the source material. But in some of the bloodiest scenes, the picture really struggles with the reds. That means some of the best and brightest moments sometimes collapse into artifact hell. That's a disc-authoring issue — and an unfortunate one, given the copious amounts of gore.
The Japanese 2.0 Dolby stereo is much better, getting the job done at every extreme of the soundtrack — from quiet murmurs to shrieks of pain and anger. A 5.1 mix would have been nice, though. There were plenty of moments when surrounds could have been put to good use.
The optional English subtitles are up to TLA's workmanlike professional standard.
The disc sets the quirky tone right away with a cute "Beavis and the Brain"-style intro that features two of the movie parasites ("Gleep & Glopp") describing the available features.
"Maximum Meatball Machine" is the main one, a 37-minute behind-the-scenes featurette featuring interviews with all of the major participants. From its beginnings as a low-budget short to the shooting woes and crafting of the gruesome-yet-cheesy effects, Meatball Machine is examined in every way possible. Be sure and stay past the end credits for a look at the "Reject of Death" short film, too.
Two shorts are also included in the features: Yamamoto's original "Meatball Machine" and "Reject of Death."
The "Meatball Machine" short is like a condensed version of the film itself, complete with necroborg combat and similar characters and situations, just on an even lower-budget level. "Reject of Death" also takes place in the necroborg-infested Japanese nightlife, and is part variation on a theme, part music video and part excuse to show some more blood and boobs. Both are entertaining and fit right in with the main film.
A gallery of very cool Necroborg design sketches and a set of TLA trailers — The Wedding Party, Strange Circus, Evil and the "Danger After Dark" box set — round out the package.
You pick up a disc called Meatball Machine, you sort of have an idea of what you're going to get. But, of course, you have to factor in the Japanese "sensibilities," which is to say, ratchet up whatever blood-and-guts you're expecting straight to "over the top." In the behind-the-scenes featurette, one of the actors says you could watch the movie with the sound off and still enjoy it. (Notice he didn't say "understand it.") He's got a point. Say what you will about the plot or lack thereof, the necroborgs are absolutely fun to watch.