What’s The Japanese For “Schlock?” The Films of Noboru Iguchi


Do you like movies where people’s heads explode into spritzing blood geysers after being cut to ribbons by Japanese ninja darts rapid-fired from the asses of bikini clad girlbots wearing Clockwork Orange dick masks?

I KNEW you did!

Unfortunately I’m not talking about the next Pixar release, but the work of a mostly consistent, reliably fucked-up Japanese exploitation comic gore meister, Noboru Iguchi.  Recently I was introduced to his work via a recommendation to watch Karate Robo Zaborgar, a remake of a 1970s-era tokusatsu silly rubber monster TV show which turned out to be, well, just damn brilliant.  And then by coincidence I got pointed to Dead Sushi, a movie where sushi comes to life and starts killing diners or transforming them into zombies (sort of Dead/Alive at the sushi bar) – and noticed it was the same director.

A little light went off in my head.

Funny how for a film freakazoid like myself, the films I’d see solely based on who directed them fall into the distinct categories of All-Time Great Directors like Hitchcock, John Ford, Kubrick, Billy Wilder and the like; and the difficult-to-pin-down category of directors who seldom disappoint in terms of whatever specific brand of schlock they’re known for – Ed Wood, Russ Meyer, John Waters. The latter category winds up being less consistent than the first in terms of delivering the goods – think of Waters’ later work or Meyer’s lesser efforts – but any time I’d hear of something that sounded mildly interesting, the name of some insane director being attached to the thing would usually make me hit play.

So add Noboru Iguchi to the list.

I read up a little on the guy & hunted down a couple of his other films that oozed potential – Machine Girl, a revenge tale of a schoolgirl transformed into a Robocop of sorts and Robogeisha, which is about (of course!) geishas turned into robot assassins until one rebels against the evil organization behind it all.

Machine Girl is the earliest of the bunch, and I thought that showed. An over-the-top gory violent revenge tale with lots of Tom Savini-style bloody explodin’ faces and cut off finger type sfx, which unfortunately never quite goes AS over the top with its humor. Maybe I’m getting old (well, actually there’s no maybe about that), but the only way I can really sit through a movie where people are chained up and get their fingers cut off and fed to them is if its presented with a cartoon violence level of humor more commonly found in material like Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste or Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. A little too much of Machine Girl depends on the ridiculous level of violence itself to be the joke, and that joke gets tired. Machine Girl also has a story structure problem, in that a prologue leading to a flashback makes no sense since the flashback becomes essentially the rest of the movie. And I don’t think they cared, since they were clearly far more interested in how a girl with her arm hacked off with a Samurai blade could plug said stump into a machine gun (echoes of Bruce Campbell’s chainsaw from Evil Dead 2) and blast faces off until they basically become nothing more than ping-pong ball eyes sticking out of a large blob of blood and fake muscle tissue.

THAT’S entertainment!

Robogeisha lessens the gore-violence and ups the comedy-violence somewhat, a trend that thankfully continued into Zaborgar and Dead Sushi. Again, we get a prologue/flashback structure that winds up making no sense in the end, but this time the weaponry and battle scenes are much more perversely creative – ninja darts fly out of asses and literally cut people into sections that fall apart like a house of cards, geisha’s sprout circular saws from their mouths, or open their entire robot bodies to unleash dick-masked tengu assassins who spray acid breast milk from the matching dick masks on their bra cups.  Say what you want about Iguchi’s taste, but you can’t call his stuff boring.

Check out the trailer:

Dead Sushi, as I mentioned, draws a lot from Jackson’s must-see Dead/Alive – just substitute a mad scientist’s injections into sushi for the bite of the rat monkey and you basically get identical results – endless gross-out gags, body parts flying around and zombie hordes. Iguchi is clearly influenced by guys like Jackson and Raimi, but there’s also a touch of Russ Meyer as well, especially considering how Iguchi got his start making hardcore porn. Like Meyer, he likes fightin’ female characters, both good and bad. Instead of them beating up Meyer’s dumber-than-a-bag-of-hammers rednecks of the Charlie Napier variety, Iguchi aims them at satiric caricatures of evil Japanese corporate suits involved in criminal conspiracies, often pitting his chop socky fighter heroines against whatever ridiculous evil technologies (or in this case supernatural happenings) drive the plot. I know something about Japanese pop culture, so I recognize how much of fancy sushi etiquette is ridiculed during the course of this movie – I always wonder about how much stuff I’m missing, as if I showed some random episode of The Venture Brothers to someone in Japan and expected them to get all the pop culture references therein.

Dead Sushi‘s story holds together than Robogeisha or Machine Girl  by following  standard horror movie conventions.  Do you care that much about a plot involving a bunch of people trapped in a fancy hotel where the sushi flies around and rips their insides out? I think Joe Bob Briggs style of review is appropriate here: Exploding face. Flying killer squid. Bikini body sushi. Gratuitous nudity. Gratuitous nudity covered in blood. Sushi chef attempting multiple murder over insult to technique. Villain transformed into axe-wielding kung fu fighting giant tuna.

Need I go on? It’s a must-see item.

Karate Robo Zaborgar is probably the best all-around Iguchi film I’ve seen, both in terms of story and in the cleverness of the gags.  This time, Iguchi had stronger source material, lifting much of the plotline from the story arc of the original 1970s television series about a secret agent and his fighter robot partner,who can transform into a motorcycle amongst other things, taking on the evil Sigma organization who are responsible for his father’s death.  The movie follows the same set-up only this time Sigma steals the DNA of various powerful people to eventually build a “weapon that will destroy all of Japan.” Iguchi applies his unique formula to this material beautifully, giving us the requisite fountains-of-blood fight scenes, but also material in the same vein as Dead Sushi. When Sigma’s evil femmebot soldier Miss Borg falls in love with our hero and tentacles shoot out of her breasts and swallow his face during their lovemaking, even I have to admit that I didn’t see that one coming.

I believe this one is based on a true story.

This one borrows from material ranging from Star Wars to the wonderful Infra Man, with battling robots, exploding heads, evil eye patched scientists in wheelchairs, men who breast feed, and in the final battle, a superweapon that I believe trumps the comedy of the Sta-Puf marshmallow man in Ghostbusters.  Let’s be blunt – this movie is just flat-out fucking brilliant from start to finish, and considering that the whole thing revolves around a transforming robot fighter, how can anyone not be reminded (again) of just how pathetically inferior crap like Transformers, no doubt budgeted at hundreds upon hundreds of millions more,  is compared to it?  Iguchi ought to be getting the deals Michael Bay is getting, he’d be delivering far better material in the end, and basically for the same audience.

Though I must admit, I did find one Iguchi film I’m not sure I want to sit through – Zombie Ass, Toilet of The Dead – which, despite its art house title, looks a little too heavy on scat humor for my own liking. I haven’t researched the content of Iguchi’s porn, but I’m sure it influenced this one somehow. Yow!


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