Actually, the movie was better than I had expected it to be, largely thanks to its intriguing protagonists. Yoji is nicely developed as a character. The viewer quickly finds himself in the man's lonely, isolated world and feels his infatuation for the equally sad Sachiko. Later, after Yoji has rescued her, she confesses her own troubling past. The young woman explains how she was sexually abused by her father, who inflicted wounds upon her body, scarring her severely so that she would not be attractive to other men. By so exposing the pain of these two individuals, the directors allow the viewer first to engage with them and later to feel anger and sorrow when he sees how this pair, who have been made to endure so much hardship in life, are made to endure even more. Their efforts to so engage the moviegoer pay off throughout a large part (though not all) of the film's concluding act. Many of Meatball Machine's acts of savagery are, thus, invested with an emotivity they certainly would not have otherwise had.
These battles, which make up the bulk of the movie's second half, are, for a fair part of their duration, reasonably exciting, but the directors do tend to emphasize the sadness and the gruesomeness, rather than the excitement, of the fights. These second two elements are not, I should add, incompatible. The directors simultaneously bring out their characters' sufferings and expose the nasty effects the aliens' weapons have on human bodies. The pain of severe injuries is never something abstract. It is always something felt by persons in whose existence the viewer is invested.
Happily, these sequences are generally well realized, since the special effects are often fairly impressive. Admittedly, the sets are forgettable, consisting largely of back alleys and nondescript apartments, and the costumes used to create the 'necroborgs' are a little silly. It is, however, possible that the latter were meant to be goofy and cartoonish. The transformed protagonists look like warped versions of characters from some children's science fiction television series, and the mingling of the comic and the repugnant can be a little disturbing. The characters are covered with bulky masses of tubing and metallic encrustations. A large metal ball (that in which the alien lives) grows from each such person's shoulder, and his eyes are replaced with a pair of metal disks that look like oversized buttons. These outfits are not the only effects employed by the filmmakers. The bloody consequences of the battles these half-human things wage with one another are repeatedly shown. Such moments are both nasty and affecting. They rarely fail to remind the viewer of the pain the combatants suffer. In fact, much of the movie allows the viewer nearly to experience the characters' agonies. Yamaguchi and Yamamoto's depictions of the aliens generally add to this. These parasitic fiends, once deposited in a person's body, are exposed as vile pink poppets. Each has a head made mostly of what look like a spider's chelicerae, which the little monster, when expressing its own pain or glee, will spread apart to expose a gaping, distinctly vulviform mouth. Having seated itself in a cavity carved into its host, the alien goes on to manipulate the person using what actually appear to be strings. The idea of what such a monster is doing, that it is controlling a conscious human being and forcing that person to engage in actions hurtful to himself and others, is pretty disturbing.
Somehow, as interesting as some of the movie's elements are, they do not come together as a whole. Perhaps, had the narrative been expanded and some of the themes developed more extensively, Meatball Machine would have been better. As it stands, it does not, however, seem complete. In the end, having drawn the viewer into its world, the film fails to satisfy him. Instead, after an generally engaging but unduly drawn out battle sequence - one that does, frankly, allow the viewer's interest to wane somewhat - the movie just ends abruptly.
Meatball Machine is a grisly, brutal film. It is also a flawed film, but, for most of its duration, it is both interesting and fairly creatively realized.
Review by Keith Allen
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