Yesterday evening was an exciting night at the Apartment of Erotic Horror--I had the teevee all to myself and seized the opportunity to watch the copy of The Machine Girl that I bought at Chiller Theatre Con. In retrospect, I think my movie-watching experience would probably have been enhanced with group participation (to make no mention of the addition of booze--booze would have helped enormously). This movie was... problematic.
The movie tells the story of schoolgirl Ami, whose brother is killed by a teenaged gang of thugs led by the son of a sadistic yakuza family. Hell-bent on revenge, Ami joins forces with a mother who has lost her son to the bullies and embarks on a kill-crazed mission to massacre the criminals.
Much the way that Don't Answer the Phone is a retarded cousin to Manhunter, The Machine Girl is a developmentally challenged relative of Takashi Miike's ultraviolent yakuza epic Ichi the Killer. Similar themes of revenge and the inevitability of violence are explored with the application of similarly grotesque portrayals of violence. Machine Girl is not a very smart or introspective movie, though, and it falters at being a funny movie most of the time as well. Ridiculousness without ample humor just isn't a recipe for success.
From the get-go, it's clear that the movie exists as a framework on which to hang various scenes of outrageous violence. Within the first five minutes, there are limbs hacked off, decapitations and copious arterial spray as Ami mows down a group of high school bullies. The remainder of the film is told in flashback, showing how she came to be the titular Machine Girl. Character development is iffy, showing our heroine ping-ponging between gentle sweetness and moments of preternatural toughness. We take it on the story's honor that Ami is made of the kind of stern stuff that would lead a young woman to hammer nails into the face of an enemy or use a corpse's blood-spurting neck-stump to douse an opponent in grue.
The portrayal of this kind of violence varies throughout the film and it's hard to pin down whether the makers were aiming for Hostel-type torture porn or crazy adult cartoon action. Ami's showdown with the Super Mourner Gang, a cadre of parents of the gang members she's murdered, is very fine--almost balletic--Grand Guignol involving miniguns, a chainsaw, and a flying guillotine. On the other hand, the scene where Ami loses her arm when being punished by the yakuza family is vicious, highly personalized and a little uncomfortable to watch, as is Ami's encounter with the drill bra. The "Fun Factor" would have been easy to enhance through toning down the one-on-one torture, but the final effect is not the "I'm laughing so hard I'm puking" reaction one gets from Peter Jackson's gore comedies--there's a sense of real cruelty and sadism about the proceedings that puts a significant damper on the entire affair.
In reviewing the IMDB page for this movie, it looks like this is really a party movie--I imagine that being distracted from the "vicious factor" by friends (and the aforementioned booze) would've improved the experience a lot. There's plenty to recommend the movie--I don't want to give the impression that it's entirely a downer. My major complaint is that I can see what the movie *could have been*--it's right on the cusp of trash-cinema wonderfulness--it just never realizes this potential.
Click here for a gallery of film stills from The Machine Girl.
Addendum: For those of you who are looking to watch this film for yourselves, be advised that the English dubbed track on the new Media Blasters Tokyo Shock-imprint DVD is... notgood. There are English subs available over the original Japanese and this is your best viewing option.