Wednesday, November 12, 2014
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Sushi Girl
In 1992, Quentin Tarantino shot several thousand volts through the crime genre with ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and inspired a slew of self-consciously quirky caper movies. In 2005, Eli Roth fashioned himself as the poster boy for torture porn with ‘Hostel’ and, yup, inspired a slew of self-consciously nasty horror movies. Perhaps the only real surprise is that it’s taken so long for someone to sashay into a production meeting and say, “Hey, guys, let’s do ‘Reservoir Dogs’ meets ‘Hostel’.”
Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big hand for Kern Saxton’s ‘Sushi Girl’. (If you’re scratching your cranium and trying to place the name, Saxton’s previous credits include short film ‘Porntourage’ and feature debut zombie-movie-as-drug-addiction metaphor ‘Deader Living Through Chemistry’. Subtlety is not the gentleman’s strong point.)
Please take a seat – you’ll be duct-taped to it and savagely beaten in a moment – while we do some work on a plot synopsis. Fish (Noah Hathaway) gets out of prison after six years. He’s kept his mouth shut and ensured that the crew who were with him on the botched diamond heist he ended up in the slammer for have stayed free. He’s spent six years wondering what exactly happened to said diamonds.
Funnily enough, the rest of the crew have been wondering the same thing and they’ve come to the conclusion that Fish somehow managed to stash them before the cops nailed him. Thus it is that Fish is invited to an ostensible welcome home meal at a Chinese restaurant where the main course is a selection of raw fish artfully arranged on the voluptuous body of a naked woman.
No, that kind of thing never happens at my local Chinese restaurant, either. (There are as yet undiscovered tribes in Papua New Guinea who just know what the first comment on this post is going to be.)
So: gathered in this pressure cooker environment (it’s a surprise the sushi isn’t deep fried by the end of the movie) are gang boss Duke (Tony Todd), lank-haired thug Max (Andy Mackenzie), lisping slob Crow (Mark Hamill), and the increasingly nervous Francis (James Duval). Francis is nervous because he thinks Fish might not have had off with the diamonds after all. And he’s very nervous because he’s wearing a wire. Subject of casting choices, Hamill’s every moment onscreen is horribly disturbing. Not because of his characterisation but for how scarily the former Luke Skywalker resembles Jabba the Hutt.
Francis is in a minority as regards belief in Fish’s innocence. No sooner have a couple of glasses of saki been downed and an entrée or two slobbered off the human serving platter that is the eponymous woman (Courtney Palm) than Fish has been forcibly restrained, Duke is laying some threatening and terribly faux-Tarantino dialogue on him, and Max and Crow are playing a game of one-upmanship with Fish as an extremely brutalised pawn.
In purely narrative terms, what this amounts to is: Max fucks Fish’s shit up; small piece of backstory unfolds; Crow fucks Fish’s shit up; another piece of backstory unfolds; repeat; repeat; Mexican standoff; “twist” ending. I say twist ending because the moment you start wondering why the film is titled for a character who does nowt but lie on a table with bits of fish strategically draped over her, then you’re pretty much on course for taking an educated guess at the direction the story takes in its last quarter of an hour. In purely aesthetic terms, it’s wall-to-wall beat-down violence – by fist, toolbox, broken bottle or good old-fashioned handgun – all the way.
‘Sushi Girl’ would be very easy to write off as derivative and uninspired, but for four things.
First, Saxton and his co-writer Destin Pfaff are immensely genre-savvy, knocking exactly how to time the narrative beats, when to cut away from dark, claustrophobic interiors and deliver a blast of action as the heist plays out in flashback.
Secondly, the film assembles a trash-movie-lover’s dream cast only to riff on them subversively: case in point, Danny Trejo wanders into movie, immediately brandishes a machete and is just as summarily despatched. It’s like a distilled version of Samuel L Jackson giving his big scenery chewing speech in ‘Deep Blue Sea’ only to be chowed down by a shark seconds later.
Thirdly, there is absolutely no fucking let up in tension, and for this alone it genuinely earns its comparison to ‘Reservoir Dogs’.
Fourthly – and this is what seals the deal – it utterly looks the biz. Of the spoof trailers that were the chief joy of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s ‘Grindhouse’, ‘Machete’ and ‘Machete Kills’ brought some of the lo-fi grubbiness to the big screen (the former brilliantly, the latter disappointingly), while ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ swamped its drive-in aesthetic in a miasma of what-the-fuckery. ‘Sushi Girl’, though … ‘Sushi Girl’ looks every bit the 70s drive-in exploitationer; the kind of thing that would fall foul of the video nasties witch-hunt in the UK a decade later. It was made in 2012. The dark cynical blood of 1971 pumps through every frame of it.