Tokyo Dragon Chef (2021)

Yoshihiro Motomiya

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Yasukaze Motomiya, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Hitoshi Ozawa, Ozawa Kazuyoshi, Tak Sakaguchi, Rinne Yoshida, Michi, Yutaro

Known for his grotesque imagination, Yoshihiro Motomiya has made a name for himself as both an effects artist and a director. Having delivered cult hits such as  Tokyo Gore Police and Meatball Machine: Kodoku, the directors latest tones down the violence for something more absurdist.

Upon his release from prison, Tatsu (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) is shocked to discover his Yakuza gang has been disbanded. Aided by former gang-member Ryu (Yasukaze Motomiya), the pair become a sensation upon opening a ramen restaurant, which draws the attention of rival Yakuza, also eager to open a restaurant. Upon crossing paths with a mysterious gang, intent on taking down every Yakuza family one by one, the aging chefs are drawn back into the gangland lifestyle once more.

It's a curious mix, as a Yakuza rivalry is told on the backdrop of a culinary success story, while mixed together within a musical package. As these mismatched ideas come together, one wishes the final result was something more interesting. For an action comedy, this feels light on both of those aspects. The moments of humour struggle to inspire legitimate laughs, while the action scenes are bogged down by an overuse of slow-motion, and just feel underwhelming. Instead, the film willingly indulges in its perverted side, as evidenced by a character's introduction involving her nipples being unnecessarily pointed out.

The musical elements should be wonderfully vivid, full of life, and make you want to belt out the tunes after finishing the film. Instead, the scenes are distracting with how oddly shot and amateurish they feel. It could be a translation issue, but the simplistic lyrics feel like a first draft which never was improved upon, but what's most unforgivable is how forgettable the songs are. Rather than focus on this, it feels as though Motomiya's energy was on a grab-bag of random tricks. As such, we have a YouTuber who's theorised to not be human, a fortune teller with the abilities of a Sat-Nav and a bowler, and a tattoo which projects expository holograms, none of which comes together.

Driving the story is Gizumo, a dangerous crime boss who carved a third eye into his forehead. We're told he decapitated prominent Yakuza bosses, but seeing the antagonist in action, this is difficult to believe. With his motivations boiling down to money-grabbing ageism, combined with him being played like a cartoon, it's difficult to consider him a legitimate menace. For a character that's responsible for the entire plot, this is a large oversight, but it's just another misstep in a feature full of them.

Tokyo Dragon Chef is available on DVD & Digital Download from 25th January