Another day, another Japanese head-fuck. To be fair, the plot for Meatball Machine reads like the latest best selling romance novel. A shy boy called Yoji (Issei Takahashi) works at a factory in a dead end job; he’s an outcast, a misfit, a loner. Ignored and ridiculed by his workmates, he finds scant satisfaction in watching a girl from across the way on his lunch break.
The girl's name is Sachiko (Aoba Kawai), and just like him, she’s shy too. More to the point, she’s liked Yoji from a distance for sometime too. Even though he just kind of sits there and stares at her, which is not in the least bit creepy at all. The only problem is, they're both really shy (have I mentioned that already?) and it’s not until Sachiko is attacked by a rampaging sex maniac that romance blossoms. Shy boy intervenes and love finds a way...
Just when you think the plot may throw up a twist - like a second love interest or an over protective parent, an alien invasion threatens to wipe out the entire population. You guessed it, the old parasites-taking-over-the-human-body-in-grotesque-body-shock-horror plot twist, again. I had begun to wonder why a strange alien/monster/robot hybrid was trying to break up the fluffy stuff, but I chose to overlook it. Capable of making biomechanical weapons out of human flesh, alien parasites turn their hosts into maniacal killers that seek and destroy each other. Welcome to the deliriously disturbing world of Meatball Machine, a film directed by Yûdai Yamaguchi (Tamami: The Baby's Curse) and Jun'ichi Yamamoto.
So anyway, that's the plot out of the way. Shy boy and shy girl are taken over by alien parasites and spend the rest of the movie beating each other up. It's all very cheap, that goes without saying, but at times it's also incredibly inventive. The effects are impressive from a certain standpoint, especially when you take into consideration the fact that Meatball Machine was made for less than Tom Cruise’s teeth whitener, but credit to the filmmakers for ensuring their movie remains striking throughout. Fans of Japanese splatter-fests like Tokyo Gore Police and The Machine Girl will know what to expect. The problem for me was that, even the most insanely violent movies need something fresh to keep the viewer hooked. Meatball Machine had a daft plot (which you could let slide), dull characters (which really didn’t help), poor acting and ropey direction.
Some film fans will lap up the absurdity of it all, but my interest waned the less it made sense, and audiences may find the lack of focus a bit of a chore. It just didn't have a whole lot to say, and I would have let that go too had I been having lots of fun at the time. But I wasn't. There's just not a lot of fun to be found here, and that's the films biggest weakness. That and the rubbish aliens that pop up at the end of the movie.
Gore hounds will undoubtedly find plenty to enjoy, and fans of creative effects will be impressed by the costumes, high splatter count and bursts of random violence. But we would have preferred a little more substance (other than the red stuff) for our hard earned cash. Just for the record, Meatball Machine was a remake of an earlier Meatball Machine short, and both movies are available on this DVD release. I doubt very much I'll be checking out the 1999 original though. I'm thinking of going vegetarian for a while.
Meatball Machine is an acquired taste, but there’s definitely a fan base out there for this kind of film. So if you can ignore the absence of plot, dull as dishwater characters and cheap as chips production values, then why not give it a go? Meatball Machine is violent, disturbing, creative and quirky. Romance has never been so destructive. AW