RoboGeisha (2009)

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Directed by: Niboru Iguchi

I’ve only just realised that I really hate low budget films that knowingly aim for cult status. I want good stories that are told on shoe string budgets, wonky scenery and fluffed lines. I want the genuinely bad, because it was unintentionally genuinely bad, not the “we’re being too clever for our own good” school of cult film making that knowingly makes a film bad. You know, the kind of directors who create buzz worthy set pieces that will be made into endlessly recycled Gif’s or feature in short videos put together by smart aleck’s with too much time on their hands (yes, even more time than it takes to write a movie review). The ridiculousness of acidic breast milk being fired from rubber nipples or shuriken’s being shooting out of somebody’s bottom. Lowest common denominator humour permeates RoboGeisha and means the film ends up becoming a campy mix of the more risqué elements of the ‘Carry On’ films alongside fights scenes that wouldn’t have looked out of place in ‘The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’. I hope you now have a mental image of Barbara Windsor in the pink ranger outfit.

The opening of the film isn’t half bad. It’s nonsensical but you have to go with it. A politician gets attacked by a robot, she splits in half and not one put two assassins appear from her body, Russian doll style. Then Yoshie the RoboGeisha turns up to save the day. Arse kicking karate kicking chicks deliver powerful lines like “You touch my tits and frankly they’ll be a hole in your face”. It’s almost a modern take on Clark Gable’s classic line in ‘Gone with the Wind’. After taking care of the sinister threat Yoshie asks herself “What am I? A robot or a geisha?”

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We then learn the origin story of the RoboGeisha, which begins in sibling rivalry. Yoshie is bullied at home by her older sister Kikue. Despite being incessant picked on she still loves her older sister. The pair are headhunted and then coerced into training as assassins for the evil Kageno Steel Corporation run by a malevolent Father and Son duo. The sisters are made to fight each other during one training drill, and Yoshie humiliates Kikue. Both end up getting mechanical implants to enhance their fighting skills, but whereas Kikue is all in when it comes to working for Kageno, Yoshie gets her head turned by a renegade group who tell her they’ve had family members kidnapped by the Corporation. The group make Yoshie aware about Kageno’s terrorist plans. Yoshie then faces a race against time to prevent a bomb getting dropped on Mount Fuji.

‘RoboGeisha’ isn’t a film suitable for any kind of deep critical analysis. You aren’t supposed to take it seriously, it’s one of those films that you tell your friends about, but not in the “you’ve got to see this because it’s brilliant” in an ironic way, but “for Christ’s sake watch this before the joke isn’t funny anymore”.

Since I’m a grouch, I didn’t really enjoy ‘RoboGeisha’ that much; the laughs all came in the opening scene. After that point I then became irritated and watched the rest of the movie with my arms folded, stuck in silence. There was not even a hint of a smile on my face as buildings bled, baddies got shrimps stuck in their eyes and Yoshie turned into a tank.

4/10

Robogeisha on IMDB

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Martha Marcy May Marlene Marvelous Majestic Magnificent

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I’m the kind of man susceptible to the charm of charismatic leader. Deep down I consider myself a vulnerable soul searching for some place to belong. In the past I’ve contemplated signing up to an Alpha Course and even going along to take a Personality Test in a Scientology Centre. I just want to feel part of something. Practically speaking I would be living rent free. There would be freshly grown food and kool aid.

The idea of a commune has also always appealed to me. Joining a ‘family’ that lives together outside society’s boring boundaries seems appealing. Trouble is human nature dictates that there would be a hierarchy, someone would assume a leadership role, would dominate and ultimately destroy any possibility of collective harmony.

We’ve seen David Koresh and Charles Manson seductively lure a bunch of vulnerable people to worship them as living God’s. I was always drawn more to the Manson Family, given that their place in the dark side of popular culture coincides with my favourite period of modern history, the decaying counter-cultural movement of the late sixties. Charles Manson was an unlikely charismatic figure, a psychopath who somehow managed to get a bunch of women to fall for him as he played the role of spiritual guru and struggling musician. Things went predictably awry in ’69 as Charlie wanted to start a race war, and descended into madness, getting his devilish followers to make a few murderous statements.

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Would a Manson figure thrive today? Possibly not, we’re too drawn to the cult of celebrity. Our God’s can be followed on Twitter. But imagine uf a celebrity inviting their followers to literally follow them. Say for example the Australian actor Alan Fletcher purchased a plot of land, set up camp, and invited the weak-minded and emotionally needy to join him. He begins by serenading his followers with covers of Britpop classics on a battered acoustic guitar, then things get darker as night falls and he pulls out a velvet bag full of penile toys.

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‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ is a film about what might happen today if someone left the modern equivalent to Manson’s family and tried to adjust from cult member to fully functioning member of normal society. Understandably such a person would be fucked up. They’d have no concept of time, no idea about social conventions. They would be confused and bemused, and scared about what the future might hold for them.

Elizabeth Olsen is Martha, who was once known as Marcy May. Marlene is the name she used to use when answering the cult’s phone. The film follows Martha after she escapes from the cult and shelters with her sister, and her sister’s wealthy English husband in a lake side home. Throughout the film we flashback to Martha’s time in the cult, and discover the reasons why she chose to leave.

The clever aspect of the film is that we assume after early flashbacks that the reasons for Martha’s departure were chiefly because of the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Patrick (the film’s Charles Manson figure), yet quickly Martha becomes implicated into the cult herself as she willingly shacked up with Patrick again, grooms other young women for Patrick’s bidding, and begins breaking into people’s home to forage. Such foraging inevitably ends in tragedy.

Martha is vulnerable; a wet leaf of a woman, and throughout the film appears completely lost. She has no real identity other then the one Patrick bestowed upon her. She constantly seeks love, care and support, yet is unable to process and receive genuine affection. Martha is unable to let anyone in, to bring her guard down. This is noted both by Patrick in Martha’s early days in the cult, and by her sister, who is worried about Martha’s state of mind.

Olsen, in this, her breakthrough role, plays it perfectly, she frowns, cowers and cries, she erupts in frustration, wets herself and freaks out. Her complicated character – a woman who we the viewers never really gets to know, towards the end of the film struggles with reality. We’re not sure if she is having a post-traumatic breakdown, or is seeing very real and possibly sinister things. As the temporary sanctity of her sister’s lakeside accommodation is taken away, everything she has run away from begins to catch up with her.

I don’t think we see enough of Patrick, played sinisterly by John Hawkes, and it is therefore tricky to know what drew people to live in the commune and follow his lead. How did Martha end up there? Why does she stay after being raped? Did she get brainwashed, did she genuinely feel that she had nowhere else to go?

Martha is an unreliable witness throughout the film, we see things through her perspective, however her viewpoint is skewed and confused. She has endured trauma, and is maladjusted. Even when she witnesses something horrific, she appears on the periphery, not quite there, not able to comprehend what has happened. Therefore the ending, left open to our interpretation, is perfectly apt.

– RJW

Martha Marcy May Marlene on IMDB
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