Meatball Machine (2005)
Directed by Yudai Yamaguchi & Jun'ichi Yamamoto

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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Yoji (Issei Takahashi), a lonely worker in some sort of industrial establishment, is in love with Sachiko (Aoba Kawai), a woman living in a house next to his place of employment, but he never has the courage to speak to her. One evening, after having been beaten up by a transvestite whose sexual advances he rejected while the two were in a pornographic theater, Yoji discovers something that looks like a copper turtle lying in a pile of garbage. He takes the thing home and puts it in his closet. The next night, he sees one of his coworkers with Sachiko and follows the pair to an isolated location. There, Yoji's colleague attempts to rape Sachiko. Yoji jumps in to save her, but is soundly beaten instead. The would-be rapist leaves, and Sachiko helps Yoji back to his apartment. The two have an awkward conversation and reveal their attraction to one another. Before they can do much to act on this, however, the copper turtle Yoji found leaps from the closet, extends four metal tentacles from its shell, grabs Sachiko with the claws at the end of each of these, and, with a large metallic tendril tipped with a large pointed bulb, rapes her. Suddenly, thousands of smaller tendrils explode from a hatch in the thing's back, seizing Sachiko; a metal orb is fixed to her shoulder, and a pair of drills bore through her eyes, replacing these with mechanical sensors. Sachiko, having so been transformed into a grisly cyborg, later called a 'necroborg,' now leaves Yoji's flat. Before he can recover from the shock he has received, a man and his daughter arrive. They take Yoji back to their home, where the man explains that two groups of aliens regularly come to the Earth and battle one another using human bodies. One of these creatures, while living in a metal orb attached to its victim's body (such as the one now fixed to Sachiko), will take over that person, operating his body as though it were a marionette, and fight other aliens, the winner getting to devour the loser. He also mentions that the human puppet is still alive and experiences both its own pain and any pain the little parasite feels. The man who saved Yoji then reveals that his daughter is infected by one of these beings, although it does not control her, and that she, in order to survive, needs to eat people similarly infected. He has a little garden where he grows the tiny fiends, and Yoji, when exposed to one of these, is going to be her next meal. Yoji, though he is subsequently infected, manages to disable the parasite within him, kill the man, and escape. Now with the enhanced physical abilities of a necroborg, which include the capacity to produce various cutting tools out of his own body, Yoji sets out to find and save Sachiko.

Yudai Yamaguchi and Jun'ichi Yamamoto's Meatball Machine is a wild, strange, brutal, and frankly gruesome science fiction film.


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.

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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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