The Machine Girl (2008)
By: Mr Intolerance on October 16, 2009  | 
Eastern Eye (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1, Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 92 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Noboru Iguchi
Starring: Minase Yashiro, Asami, Kentaro Shimazu
Screenplay: Noboru Iguchi
Country: Japan/USA
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Bullying is a problem in Japanese High Schools. It gets referred to so frequently in a number of Japanese films (Visitor Q, Fudoh: The Next Generation, Violent Cop, Battle Royale, All Night Long 2: Atrocity, Suicide Club – the list could keep on keeping on), in manga, anime (the Urotsukidoji franchise, specifically the first two of the Over-fiend series) – most aspects of Japanese popular culture, in fact, reflect this worrying trend of teen violence against other teens; a pack mentality. Ami's younger brother Yu is bullied to death, and she wants vengeance.

Ami is a normal schoolgirl; before Yu's death the two of them live together without their parents, who were accused of murder, and committed suicide from the shame they felt at such accusations. Yu is keeping it schtum that he's being bullied by a bunch of real arseholes led by Sho, whose father is a local Yakuza boss, and whose family has long and proud tradition of being ninjas.

I didn't say it was a serious film.

Actually, the only serious thing about this film is the fact that it's serious fun. Despite the fact that it's dealing with a pretty serious subject, The Machine Girl is a gleefully gory revenge tragedy romp, which'll put a big old smile on your face, unless you're a complete cretin.

We start in media res, 6 months after the events which are the catalyst for the action in this film begin, in a wonderfully bloody action scene which makes the arterial sprays in the Lone Wolf and Cub films look like a slow trickle. Then there's the inevitable flashback and voiceover, and back we go, to see how we got where we did. Yu and his mate Takeshi are being extorted by Sho and his gang, and when they can't pay up, are dropped from a building, and rather a high one at that. Ami, who's narrowly avoided a rape and in doing so has shown us her fighting skills, knows that it was murder, and wants to find those responsible. Takeshi's mother Miki is not interested in helping her, believing that Takeshi's death is somehow to be blamed on the reputation of Ami's family, which is a little unfair.

Ami finds a list of Yu's, a shit-list of people he wants to kill because they've been bullying him. She immediately sets about trying to do things the right way, through the system, but when the father of the first boy she confronts is a police officer who believes that she's bad because of her family's reputation, we all just know she's going to have to go beyond the law to get satisfaction. And just what this scene says about family loyalty (Ami's hand gets tempuraed by the nutty mother of one of the bullies) and the attitude towards bullying ("Maybe he did something to deserve it?") has to be seen to be believed. Ami's revenge (and her major attitudinal shift away from believing that killing people can never be good) is even more over the top – black humour of the highest quality.

Ami, in what is perhaps a nod towards the Lone Wolf and Cub films, now sees herself as a demon, and will remain one until she's killed all of Yu's enemies. She pays Sho and the rest of the Kimura clan a rather memorable visit, which ends up with Ami being, shall we say, physically educated and re-adjusted. The Kimuras are complete nutcases, to say the least. But Ami escapes, and then the fun really begins.

Ami finds her way back to Takeshi's parents, who tend to her rather sizeable wound, and start to come around to thinking she's not such a bad egg after all, and decide to help her. The Kimuras set about trying to find Ami, taking in a casual round of necrophilia on the way. We then get the obligatory training montage (and every time I see one, I hear that song from Team America: "We need a montage!"), intercut with Miki and her husband making Ami's new weapon – the chain-gun she was wearing for an arm in the first scene.

Ninja attack!!! The Kimuras have sent ninjas out to take out Ami and whoever she might be shacked up with. Imagine that! Being able to summon ninja henchmen – man, my life is so lame – where the hell are my ninjas? Every movie becomes much cooler with the introduction of ninjas, even if, as here, they're wearing red tracksuits. Ami receives her ridiculously high-powered machine-gun in this scene, and the riotously comedic bloodbath that ensues is laugh-out-loud funny.

Boss Kimura (whose hair is gelled into points like devil-horns, and who sports some very pimp threads – his three piece leopard skin suit is boss) enlists the aid of the parents of the dead ninjas (I kept thinking of that scene in the first Austin Powers film, the one that asks who cares for the widows and orphans of dead henchmen) to help kill Ami and Miki, who is starting to be troubled by an infected ninja-inflicted wound. Exposition, exposition, exposition, and then after Miki and Ami torture the bejesus out of one of the Kimura's men – they laugh, smile and giggle while pounding nails into this dude's head, then it's time to tool up (the bad guys in some utterly outlandish outfits) and head out for the final, totally outrageous and over-the-top showdown.

Where would a movie be without a chainsaw? Every movie needs a chainsaw. Imagine how much cooler Gone With The Wind would have been if Rhett had turned to Scarlett at the end of the film and instead of saying, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," he'd said, "Suck on this, bitch," and then chainsawed her damn-fool head off. I get the distinct impression that the makers of this film may well have seen some Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson films, and I'm not talking Spiderman or The Lord of the Rings.

Yeah, chainsaws are pretty cool, but they're nothing compared to the drill-bra. Man, this movie just keeps on giving. Just when you thought it couldn't get any more madcap and bizarre, The Machine Girl ups the ante even further, usually adding another dozen or so buckets of fake blood on the way. Maybe there isn't a word in the Japanese language for "restraint"? If not, it's a good thing.

After having recently being smacked around the chops by the countless filmic references in Neil Marshall's admittedly awesome Doomsday, it was nice to see a film that was capable of inserting an homage (a number of them, in fact) without being glaringly obvious about it. Actually, like Marshall's love-letter to the post apocalyptic genre, The Machine Girl is a film made by fans, for fans. The same splat-schtick uber-gore that powered Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, Evil Aliens and Brain-Dead is at work here – and actually, now that I think about it, if you liked those films, you'll love this one.

It's goofy, hysterically funny, crass, gross and at times just plain weird – but is it an unmitigated classic, like its inspirations? No. There are a number of problems with the pacing, most notably (and given the nature of this film, you do notice it – in a similar vein, Wild Zero never gives its audience time to think, and is a stronger film for it); running at 100mph and then suddenly stopping for no readily apparent reason has the same effect on the audience as driving your speeding Porsche into a brick wall. The CGI is not terribly well-rendered, and at times lets the film down – jarring the audience out of the film in a way that the sub-Lewis prosthetic and appliance work do not (case in point: in the opening sequence when Ami uses the gun to blast some fool's head off – compare the scene where the bullets remove his head piece-by-piece via bad CG which looks terrible, with the glorious on-screen effect of the ruined stump of his neck geysering blood – both look completely fake, but in the latter case, enjoyably so). Even despite the fact that some of the on-screen effects are comically inept, you still buy them and their gooey charm – the computery stuff just looks awful, lifeless and cheap. Yashino, as Ami, is a pretty memorable heroine given some pretty outrageous dialogue, although I did have to wonder at the Japanese fixation with school-girls being shoved into abbreviated sailor suits and knee-socks – something ain't right there. Asami, as Miki, is also good, but she looks about the same age as Ami, which strains credibility if she's meant to be old enough to have a late teenage son.

Excuse the cliché, but this film is like a cartoon come-to-life. Think of the most off-the-wall anime you've ever seen, cross it with the really nutcase Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies skits from the 50s, have the violence directed by the Marquis de Sade and Buster Keaton, have Alfred Jarry write the script, mix the whole thing up in a blender and then have real-life actors play the parts. That's kind of like what the experience of watching The Machine Girl is like. In a word: fun.
Good crisp picture, with nary a glitch in sight. Yes it's anamorphic, and yes it's widescreen – just, at 1.77:1; hardly the ideal cinematic aspect ratio (yes I am nit-picking, but John Carpenter's adherence to 2.35:1 has ruined me for anything less), although it is the OAR.
There are Japanese 2.0 and 5.1 tracks on this release, the latter being the one you should be using. Oddly, the R1 and R3 releases of this have an English dub, which I only watched the film with because Lance Henriksen was on it, and he was only a bit part, which was irritating, but he was hardly going to "play" Ami, was he? But anyway, both Japanese tracks here are clear and loud – all the better for those gooey sound effects, gunfire and explosions.
Extra Features
Not exactly a comprehensive package, but I guess it's an adequate one for a low budget splatter flick – it's just a bit sad it's not more expansive given that this film has "instant cult smash hit" written all over it; I think it deserved a little better. Why, oh why, can I see myself double-dipping when an anniversary version comes out? Anyway, you get the original theatrical trailer (and if you haven't seen the film before, this might be worth watching first, to try to prepare your self for what you're about to receive and be truly grateful for), a stills gallery (I don't rate these as 'special features' – chewing up valuable disc space), some Eastern Eye trailers (Tokyo Gore Police (and if you thought The Machine Girl was off the wall...), Versus (another wonderful slice of hyper-kinetic Japanese splatter craziness), Cutie Honey (it's PG but it's still wacky fun) and Sword of Alexander (yet more outre wild Japanese craziness – a comedy period piece chambara film with monsters, swordplay and … spaceships?!) - this is probably the most appropriate package of trailers that could accompany this film), and a featurette, The Making of The Machine Girl. More a "behind the scenes" kind of thing, this only goes for around ten minutes and is hardly what you'd call the be-all and end-all. Disappointing.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
This is tremendous fun, right here. Sure, the CGI is terribly rendered, the appliance and prosthetic make-up looks at times like they were conjured up by a ten year old, the gore and grue (while praiseworthy in terms of the sheer volume of it) were at times rudimentary at best – yet this all adds to the charm of this top-notch violent revenge comedy. I would defy anyone (besides the most appallingly effete film snob) to watch this and not be entertained.

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