When I was offered a review screener of the 2005 “cult classic” Meatball Machine (AKA Mītobōru mashin), I figured it could be either intriguing or entertaining, and I’d give it a go. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m struggling to know where to start, having had my brain liquidised somewhat. That said, some of the best films have had me dazed for a while afterward, so I’m trying not to let that feeling put me off my writing. Let me see what I can tell you.
Yôji (Issei Takahashi) and Sachiko (Aoba Kawai) often notice each other spending their lunch breaks alone but never find the nerve to approach each other, until one day Sachiko is being harassed and Yôji goes to her rescue. So far, so First Love…except this happens to be the same day that Yôji has found a strange alien parasite and slipped it in his bag (why?), and this all takes place after a bloody cyborg battle which opens the film. Essentially, aliens are coming; not in a big invasion like War of the Worlds, but rather via these parasites (which looked like a crustacean face-hugger to me) which take over sad humans and turn them into “necroborgs”, who then fight each other to the death.
Directed by Yūdai Yamaguchi and Jun’ichi Yamamoto, Meatball Machine is perhaps what you’d get if Tetsuo: The Iron Man was made by Troma Entertainment, who insisted on trying to keep a straight face for a change. This is the kind of film that Spare Parts could serve as training wheels for: sure, we have people obliged to fight, but there is distinctly more gore and less glamour. This is a film that you will probably love if you’ve enjoyed other Japanese sci-fi or splatter horror, but not one for those of you who are turned off by the innards of aliens, the murders of endearing children, or vaguely enjoyable tentacle rape.
You with me so far?
Yôji and Sachiko are a fairly nondescript couple at first, both timid and lacking in, well, anything much. Once they connect, it becomes apparent that—regardless of how uninteresting they appear as individuals—they may be just what each other needs, if only they had the passion or energy to express it. I guess that’s where turning into a “necroborg” comes in handy. Sachiko is no longer the girl she was, and Yôji still adores her and wants to save her.
As if to put a spanner in these tragic cyberpunk works, there are also two other non-alien (or at least not-quite-alien) characters: a man with an infected daughter. He does what he can to keep the alien infestation in check and at the same time keep his daughter alive (if that’s what you can call the state she’s in), reminding me of a zombie scenario, though I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Anyway, though the people of Meatball Machine are engaging, and the story is outrageous, the real star is the special effects—gore, creatures, mutations, and so on—from the talented Yoshihiro Nishimura. This is no CGI-fest, but there are gloriously slimy practical effects with (I believe) a little bit of gruesome stop-motion thrown in. Of course, the whole thing is too far out there to be real in the slightest, but most of it looks near enough to real that I winced and recoiled a few times. Then I shook it off and saw the fighters as convention cosplayers. All impressive, either way.
Did I enjoy the film? Well yes, kind of. The pace of the story was a little erratic, with a slow start and then somewhat repetitive action, but that action was terrific. I found the tone a little odd, though, and I accept that maybe I wouldn’t if I’d been more familiar with Japanese splatter: despite everything being utterly over-the-top, Meatball Machine was presented with utter seriousness, with no obvious tongue-in-cheek that I am used to from American extreme horror films to one degree or another. That seriousness went out the window in the brief epilogue, mind you, which understandably got fans looking forward to a sequel. That sequel finally came out in 2017 and is available on Amazon Prime in the UK. So, weird though Meatball Machine was, Meatball Machine: Kodoku has gone straight onto my watchlist.
The limited, special edition Blu-Ray will be released on 12 April 2021 and includes an exclusive new director interview and a behind-the-scenes feature.