Meatball Machine (2005)
By: Robert Winter on October 26, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
TLA (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.77:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0 . English Subtitles. 89 minutes
The Movie
Director: Yudai Yamaguchi, Jun'ichi Yamamoto
Starring: Issei Takahashi, Aoba Kawai, Kenichi Kawasaki
Screenplay: Junya Kato
Country: Japan
Sex, monstrosity and re-engineered flesh Tetsuo style is on the splatter platter in this bizarre tale of necroborgs and alien possession.

The aluminum-thin plot concerns spider-like aliens who literally drill into their human hosts to take over their bodies and reconfigure the carcass with an array of weaponry. Then once set up and comfortably positioned inside their victim, the spindly creatures battle each other to the death. There's also a minor romantic sub-plot concerning Yoji, a coy factory worker and his female object of desire, Sachiko. Unfortunately for Yoji, it all goes haywire when Sachiko becomes a spare part for a horny alien during a squirm-inducing scene involving a phallic-shaped drill bit and her genitalia. Needless to say, Yoji is mortified and makes it his mission to rescue his now biomechanical babe.

On first appearance, Meatball Machine seems to purely exist as an exercise to highlight one flesh-tearing set piece after another. Human hosts are sliced, grated, diced and julienned in a plethora of graphic ways which makes for a decidedly depraved, yet mesmerising viewing experience. The special effects are obviously a low-budget extravaganza of cheap scrap metal, gooey latex creations and sloppy food byproducts, but it's all brought together with the voyeuristic vim and verve of early Cronenberg – bodily penetration and invasion is shown in unflinching, pornographic close-up and sexual metaphors and references to familial abuse are fused in for good measure.

With moments reminiscent of a live-action Manga, the cinematography and camera angles lend an almost comic-book look and feel to the onscreen carnage. Much of the action takes place amid the harsh, concrete-deadened underbelly of a polluted industrial suburb in Tokyo, which provides the ideal battleground for the ab-human transformations to lurk and wage their war on each other. The down-and-dirty visceral nature of the film is further enhanced by the brevity of discourse. Dialogue is sparse and only really used to offer silly attempts at tension-relieving humour and to create an unsubtle psychological arc forcing us to empathise with Yoji's plight. In one particular stab at trying to be funny, Yoji is beaten up by a transvestite after spurning 'her' advances. It seems ill conceived and lacks any real context other than reinforcing a stereotype. However, it's the imaginative necroborg creations that really capture your attention. Take, for example, Sachiko's eye socket implants. They're round metal medallions with a cross carved in the middle, eerily symbolic of how dead characters are depicted in children's cartoons.
Meatball Machine is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.77:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. For the most part this is a very good looking transfer. Although outdoor scenes are sharp and colorful, many indoor or dark sequences are a bit murky, which sometimes comprises shadow detail clarity. But where it counts the blood and gore effects are sickeningly clear.
The Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix certainly does the job. To make up for the dearth of dialogue, the soundtrack and score is filled with metallic effects and a slightly unnerving tribal, drum-and-base beat throughout. Adding to the strangeness are intermittent meanderings that sound like a weird hybrid of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond and the classic western, High Plains Drifter.

I don't whether it was my copy, but when the English subtitle stream is turned on and the text appears on the screen, it causes the picture to distort quite dramatically. There's no such problem with the Japanese language track. The same irritating distortion appears in each of the subtitled bonus features as well.
Extra Features
Reject or Death – Short: With a psychotic barrage of sex and gore images overlaid with a bone-crunching, death-metal soundtrack, this 10-minute short follows the carnage carried out by a sexy female necroborg. Just wait until you see the chained hook that shoots out from her breast and rips a man's face off. Brilliant!

Maximum Meatball Machine – Making of featurette: An interesting 38-minute featurette involving interviews with the cast and crew talking about their experiences on the set, their intentions and the difficulties of making and marketing a low budget film in Japan. There's also some terrific behind-the-scenes make-up application shots and on-set production footage.

Original "Meatball Machine" – The short that started it all: Filmed on 8mm film stock, the resultant image quality is quite soft and fuzzy. Regardless, even though the special effects look like they were created from ping pong balls and toilet paper rolls, and at one point a character says "Ouch" when skewered by a sharp object, this 13-minute showpiece has some rather impressive and surreal moments.

Necroborg creature design illustrations: A series of ultra-cool, high-quality sketches of the necroborgs.

Gleep and Glopp DVD introduction: This mindnumbingly immature Beavis and Butthead-type segment has a pair of silhouetted alien figures telling you what's on the DVD.

Trailers for three other Danger After Dark titles - Wedding Party, Strange Circus and Evil.
The Verdict
Meatball Machine intermittently massages that dark area of your brain where body modification and scarificaton has a repulsive-glamour appeal. David Cronenberg built his career by masterfully integrating this morbid, strange allure within narratives that biomechanically seared the flesh with psychological horror. Although directors Junichi Yamamoto and Yudai Yamaguchi almost succeed in exploring the mental mechanics of bodily mutation, they fall into the trap of spraying and overwhelming their audience with too much gore and mutilation at the expense of creating a space where the audience could feel a sense of wonder rather than simply spectators of gore-porn. Good or bad? It depends - what's your poison?
Movie Score
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