★★★ out of ★★★★★
Ugly, vulgar, obnoxious, and totally entertaining. Meatball Machine has perfected the low-brow J-Horror splatter-fest. You don’t get more gonzo than this!
Directed by Yudai Yamaguchi and Jun’Ichi Yamamoto
Japanese Horror cinema usually conjures up serious fare like Audition, Ringu, Dark Water, Ju-On, Suicide Club, and Kwaidan. Those are the films that have crossed over to American audiences, and rightly have influenced a generation of western filmmakers, and injected a freshness to the horror scene in bad need of a creative infusion in the late 90’s.
But, it must be said that there is another side to Japanese Horror. They love their schlocky b-grade exploitation fare just like Western audiences. Films like Tokyo Gore Police, Mutant Girl Squad, and Dead Sushi draw from Japan specific tropes like… giggly girls with short skirts and shotguns! These movies draw from anime and hentai, the over-the-top nihilistic futurism with pushing-the-boundary of bad taste relative to sex and gore.
Enter Meatball Machine.
First off, let me be clear. This movie has a completely ridiculous and almost nonsensical plot. The acting is amateurish. The special effects are spectacular but very foam latex looking, and there are some very uncomfortable scenes about masturbation and alien-robot rape. So, the kind of stuff that will make you cringe.
Now, with all of that background information, let me also tell you that this movie is hugely entertaining. This is the type of movie that Troma Studios and Full Moon can only wish they could produce, but lack the imagination to go that crazy. Japanese Splatterhouse reaches its apex with Meatball Machine. It clearly borrows imagery from the bizarre production Tetsuo, the Iron Man, but avoids the self-indulgent non-sequitur nature of that messy movie.
For all its wackiness. Meatball Machine actually has a fairly linear story. In a strange way, it resembles Highlander. (There can be only ONE!) It even opens up with a strange battle in an alley where two necroborgs (looking very much like gorier versions of the Borgs in Star Trek TNG) are seen battling to the death, ending when one of the combatants splits the others head like a roast, and tears off a nodule off the corpse of the loser and eats it bloodily… only to be ambushed by a third combatant with a glowing spiked jackhammer like weapon.
Wait, what the hell is going on?
Well, apparently there are a race of small aliens who have descended upon this blighted industrial Japanese City and have been parasitically attaching themselves to the local population, transforming them into cyborgs where the cyborgs battle it out for sport with the losing alien, trapped in these “meatball” nodules get eaten by the winner. Of course! Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Space alien parasites are using human hosts as a violent gaming platform, for gladiatorial combat. Happens all the time, no?
Enter our protagonist, Yoji (Issey Takahashi), plucked right from Anime central casting. He’s a slight wispy lad with bangs that hang in front of his eyes just so. The vaguely androgynous hero of so many manga adventures, but he’s a hero completely lacking in confidence. He’s bullied by his co-workers at the small factory where he works, and the girl he longs for, Sachiko (Aoba Kawai) doesn’t seem to notice him from beyond the fence.
One evening, after being humiliated and assaulted by a local crossdressing bully, Yoji stumbles across an inert, or hibernating parasitic vessel of one of the necroborgs, and being a bit of a tinkerer, decides to take the odd contraption home with him. That’s unfortunate, because the next night, he manages to rescue Sachiko from being assaulted by one of his colleagues, (rescuing her by getting beat up himself), and in gratitude she tells Yoji how much she has liked him from afar. His wish come true!
The unfortunate part happens when they return to his apartment to get to know each other better, and the parasite device activates, busts out of his closet where Yoji had been storing it, and the thing attacks Sachiko, messily transforming her into a full-on necroborg. This transformation scene is not for the sensitive, it is nasty on many levels. You’ve been warned. So much for a lovely evening! Sachiko turns on Yoji, but, in the end, she barrels out of the apartment into the urban sprawl.
Yoji stumbles into the jackhammer wielding necroborg hunter from the opening scene, and there is a bit of exposition that is unloaded to get the audience up to speed with all the bizarre happenings. Yoji then tries to concoct a plan to save Saichiko from her fate, but it might just be too late for that.
At this point, it’s probably best not to describe any more of the plot. Essentially, Yoji feels obligated to rescue her, and then… well a lot of shit happens. What was a crazy movie gets even crazier. Believe it or not, when you actually watch the movie it has some insane logic to it. There is a ton of outrageous imagination involved here. Now, a lot of it is in service of the nasty and the grotesque, but it is very interesting to look at.
The costumes are bizarre and over-the-top outlandish. And in truth, it all looks like foam latex and warbla, but it’s all practical. Some of the weapons look more like cosplay and less like authentic movie props, but the producers get points for effort. It’s Toho Godzilla tech applied to a gory exploitation film. The follow up film Meatball Machine Koduku (2017) ups the budget and provides more convincing costumes.
For fans of exploitation films, this is a must see. There’s a bit of Evil Dead in this movie, even a bit of the cheese and sleaze of Deathrace 2000, and a good chunk of the Toxic Avenger. In the end, though, this is a Japanese original. A bone snapping, eye-popping, tentacle flapping original.
Meatball Machine is not rated, but it stands a chance at being NC-17, for lots of gore, and some very unsettling sexual hentai-like moments. I put this at about 21 on the bridge too far meter, as despite all the quantity of gore, it is rather cartoonish in the aforementioned Evil Dead manner. And, though it’s not a comedy, it does not take itself seriously. It is streaming for free if you have Amazon Prime.