MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU. Cyberpunk gore from Japan

Japan fell onto our planet from space. This corner of the world is too different, strange, and rich in ideas that have no counterparts anywhere else on Earth

Jarosław Kowal

30 August 2023

MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU Cyberpunk gore from Japan

Japan fell onto our planet from space. On another occasion, I shared this theory, but movies like Meatball Machine provoke repeating it. This corner of the world is too different, strange, and rich in ideas that have no counterparts anywhere else on Earth to belong to the same world. The true planet of the Japanese must have exploded centuries ago, but I don’t mourn it because we received something much more fascinating than Superman as a result. We received absurdity on an otherworldly level.

Cult classic oddity

The first part of Meatball Machine Kodoku was released in 2005 and shook everyone except the Japanese themselves. After all, it’s a country where as early as the late 80s, such bizarre things were being created, like the surreal, cyberpunk Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and in the last decade, titles like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl or Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead (which is exactly what the title describes). You don’t even need to delve into such niche cinema; you could just as easily point to the acclaimed Takashi Miike, who on one hand has nominations for the Palme d’Or and the Golden Lion, and on the other hand, his rich filmography includes extremely absurd entries.


So why would a sequel to a low-budget film from thirteen years ago be an important event? Primarily because Meatball Machine accomplished something that might seem impossible in this “genre” – it engaged emotions, and perhaps even moved in a paradoxical way. Audiences were given an intimate story about a love brutally interrupted by cosmic parasites. A story that, in intention, might be as tragic as the fate of Romeo and Juliet, who here are transformed into enraged, uncontrollable “necroborgs” forcing the lovers to fight to the death.

Of course, the film didn’t earn a single penny, but for a narrow group of Japanese kitsch enthusiasts, it became a cult classic. Thanks to it, the career of special effects specialist Yoshihiro Nishimura gained momentum; three years later, he directed Tokyo Gore Police, a classic of Japanese craziness. It was he who took the director’s chair for Meatball Machine Kodoku, and it’s impossible to point out a person better suited for this task.


A “certain day”

The first act is a smokescreen. If there happened to be even one viewer who, upon starting this film, had no idea what they were getting into, the surprise would be comparable to discovering that From Dusk Till Dawn is a movie about vampires. The beginning resembles American Beauty – Yuji Noda (portrayed by second-plan veteran Yôji Tanaka, who had appearances in films like Kill Bill and Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi) celebrates his fiftieth birthday; his life is dull and lonely, with each day looking exactly the same. His job also doesn’t bring any joy – Noda attempts to collect debts from debtors avoiding their bills every day, but he’s far from being successful. Just let someone play the role of a slightly deaf old man in front of him, and he meekly retreats with another failure on an endless list of misfortunes. Of course, all this lasts until a “certain day,” because such stories always start just before a “certain day,” when everything turns upside down.

MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU Cyberpunk gore from Japan

Eventually, a toilet bowl covered in blood almost to the brim is revealed to us, along with the diagnosis – cancer. But who would be fooled? It’s clear that this first, bloody teaser is a signal that the cancer wouldn’t have had time to develop, and soon the whole screen will resemble the bottom of that toilet bowl. This indeed happens at the beginning of the second act when an unidentified, bottle-like object lands on Earth, covering a sizable portion of the city. A bit like in Under the Dome or in The Simpsons Movie. Only then are we treated to the title card, as if the director wanted to emphasize that we’re moving to the actual part of the film. From this moment on, existential dilemmas are erased, long-awaited necroborgs return, and although the battles between them still carry scenes reminiscent of Power Rangers (or maybe Super Sentai), Nishimura ensures an appropriate dose of gore that makes it a joy to watch… because wouldn’t your heart be filled with delight if Tommy (aka the Green Ranger) not only severed a thug’s leg, but also reattached it in place of hands, and then replaced them with tank treads?


Meatball Machine Kodoku – with a joint in hand

The premiere screening of Meatball Machine Kodoku was organized during the Texan SXSW festival, mainly associated with music. As claimed by those who had the chance to attend the event, before the screening, the audience was treated to a brief message from the director. In that message, Yoshihiro Nishimura argued that his latest work is best enjoyed with a joint in hand, and while I have the impression that no joint can be stronger than the film itself, this communication gives us valuable insight – the Japanese are fully aware of what they are doing. With intent, they unleash absurdity and madness onto the world. And I hope that even though they are one of the fastest aging populations in the world, they will continue to delight us with ideas that wouldn’t even cross the mind of a Westerner.