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Fish has spent six years in jail. Six years alone. Six years keeping his mouth shut about the robbery, about the other men involved. The night he is released, the four men he protected with silence celebrate his freedom with a congratulatory dinner. The meal is a lavish array of sushi, served off the naked body of a beautiful young woman. The sushi girl seems catatonic, trained to ignore everything in the room, even if things become dangerous. Sure enough, the four unwieldy thieves can't help but open old wounds in an attempt to find their missing loot.
For more about Sushi Girl and the Sushi Girl Blu-ray release, see Sushi Girl Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on February 21, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tony Todd (I), James Duval, Noah Hathaway, Mark Hamill
Director: Kern Saxton
» See full cast & crew
Sushi Girl Blu-ray Review
Revenge Served Raw
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, February 21, 2013
By way of introduction, it might be helpful to explain what a "sushi girl" is, exactly. Nyotaimori is the practice—some might say art—of presenting sushi atop a perfectly motionless naked woman's body. That is, using her as a sort of living platter, with sashimi and nigirizushi strategically placed to temporarily cover the erogenous zones. It's bizarre, and yes, it comes from Japan, but even in Nippon it's a culinary oddity, a niche fetish for yakuza-run sex clubs. Yet, somehow, it's spread to the West—enraging many feminists in the process—and you can now find the occasional nyotaimori demonstration in several major cities, proving once again that the Western appropriation of certain obscure Japanese cultural tropes is far weirder than the tropes themselves.
Nyotaimori figures prominently in Sushi Girl, a low-budget crime film from director/co-writer Kern Saxton and writer Destin Pfaff, the latter of whom some reality TV mavens might recognize as the COO of The Millionaire's Club on Bravo's Millionaire Matchmaker. The two filmmakers are something of would-be Tarantinos. In Sushi Girl, they follow the auteur's typical formula, casting under-appreciated actors in key roles—the film features a nigh-unrecognizable Mark Hamill, Candyman's Tony Todd, The NeverEnding Story's Noah Hathaway, and The Lawnmower Man's Jeff Fahey, amongst others— and telling a cynical, crime-doesn't-pay story that adopts a neo-grindhouse vibe. The film itself is alternately fun and horrifying, but the real takeaway here is that Mark Hamill—the Star Wars star long relegated to voiceover and stage work—is long overdue for a film career resurgence. He's hilariously, terrifyingly maniacal, and if there's any justice in Hollywood, he'll appear in the upcoming Star Wars sequels as an older, mentor- like, Obi-Wan-esque Luke Skywalker.
Hamill plays the effeminate, stringy-haired, gum-smacking Crow, one-fifth of a Reservoir Dogs-style band of criminals led by the slick, black suit and red tie-wearing kingpin, Duke (Tony Todd). The other members of this motley crew are the coke-nosed Francis (Donnie Darko's James Duval), the rage-prone biker Max (Andy Mackenzie), and the fall-guy Fish (Noah Hathaway), who has just been released from the clink on good behavior. To welcome Fish back to the free world and reconvene the old gang after six years—we quickly gather their last job went very, very badly— Duke has invited them all to a derelict Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of town, where he's arranged an evening of nyotaimori-centric delights.
When they arrive, the titular sushi girl (Cortney Palm) is lying motionless on a large table in the center of the room, which is contradictorily decorated with both Ming Dynasty accents and a wall-length imperial Japanese rising sun flag. She's been ordered by the sushi chef—martial arts legend Sonny Chiba in a brief cameo—to "remember your training. Don't speak, and don't move a muscle, no matter what you see or hear." Obviously, she's going to see and hear some grisly stuff. The mood is all edgy uncertainty, with each of the criminals—who seem to flagrantly hate one another—sure that Duke has brought them together with an ulterior motive in mind. And he has. Dispensing with the celebratory pretenses, Duke gets down to business— specifically, the business of extracting from Fish the location of a bag of a diamonds that went missing after their heist-gone-bad. The problem, of course, is that Fish either doesn't know, or doesn't want to say.
As you might imagine, the situation quickly gets ugly. A sock filled with broken glass is wielded like a mace, ripping jagged lines in poor Fish's cheeks. Teeth are yanked out with pliers. A chopstick and a hammer are used in horrifying conjunction. While Crow and Max play a game of violent oneupmanship, the mild-mannered Francis gets sick and Duke lords powerfully over the situation from the head of the table, letting his pawns do the dirty work. Periodically, we flash back to the afternoon in question, when the gang dons masks based on Japanese mythological figures—Duke has a thing for Japan—and holds up some diamond wholesalers played by Jeff Fahey and Machete's Danny Trejo, who has been in practically every single one of these faux-grindhouse modern exploitation films.
There's nothing particularly compelling about the plot—not even when we get to the big climactic reveal or the inevitable Mexican standoff—and a more complex, richly layered story might've brought Pfaff and Saxton closer to their Tarantino-esque aims. The limited scope certainly has to do with the small budget of the film, which plays out almost entirely in two locations. Nonetheless, the filmmakers do utilize what assets they have well; Sushi Girl predominantly succeeds in throwing a group of unexpected actors in a room and letting them riff, from Tony Todd's stoic menace to Andy Mackenzie's blood-spilling temper tantrum outbursts. Between these two extremes is Mark Hamill, who parlays his experience voicing The Joker in the Batman animated series into a performance that's slinky and scary and unpredictable. I wouldn't be surprised if his turn as Crow gets him considered for the role of a live-action Joker in whatever Batman reboot Warner Brothers has in the pipeline. He could certainly handle it; at times here, he seems like the wilier, archer older brother of Heath Ledger's Joker.
Does Sushi Girl have cult potential? Possibly. It's wince-inducingly violent, it features a cast of primed-for-comeback actors, and its naked-sushi premise is definitely an attention-grabber. It's grimy, unsettling entertainment, and while it seems a little too self-aware to be a genuinely grungy 1970s-style midnight movie, it plays it refreshingly straighter than most other pseudo-grindhouse movies, with their cheesy, scuffed-and-scrathed-in- post-production cinematography and bow-chick-a-bow-wow soundtracks. Sushi Girl's tone is darker and smarter, with comedy as black as the dead eye of a day-old albacore tuna.
Sushi Girl Blu-ray, Video Quality
I was a bit worried when I first saw Sushi Girl's trailer, which is scuzzed up to give it that played-out, "hey, it's a wannabe grindhouse movie" look. Thankfully, the film itself isn't subjected to the same hokey mistreatment. Shot digitally with the Red One camera system, Sushi Girl is actually quite sharp and clean. (The flashbacks do take on an intentionally gritty look, but you'll find no added-in-post scratches or hairs.) Fine, high definition detail is in abundance, particularly in closeups, which reveal tight skin and clothing textures. Color is nicely balanced too, with punchy contrast and grading. From a normal viewing distance, low-light noise is negligible, and there are no real distractions from compression, DNR, or edge enhancement. The image seems true to source, and for such a low-budget production, Sushi Girl looks killer on Blu-ray.
Sushi Girl Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Not content with a 5.1 mix, the filmmakers go all DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 on our asses, a real rarity for a low-budget indie movie. Granted, I'm not sure the film needs so many speakers at its disposal—Sushi Girl is very dialogue-driven, with only occasional bursts of action—but no one's going to turn down an expanded multi-channel audio track. For the most part, good use is made of all that sound space. When we're in the restaurant, we're enveloped by the steady drum of rain beating down on the outside of the building, punctuated by claps of thunder. Depending on their position around the central table, the characters' voices also emerge with directional precision, so that we might hear, say, Duke from the front speakers while Crow cackles somewhere behind one of our shoulders. There's a sense of accurate acoustics in the room. It all works—clear and full and dynamic. Fritz Myers' provides a score that heightens the onscreen tension, and the opening sequence uses Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever" to fantastic effect. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Sushi Girl Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Sushi Girl Blu-ray is eager to please, arriving with more bonus material than is arguably necessary, including two entertaining commentaries, a long making-of documentary, fake TV commercials, extensive interviews, storyboards for the entire movie, and what is—bar none—the lengthiest outtake reel I've ever seen.
Sushi Girl Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Sushi Girl is a johnny-come-lately to the faux-grindhouse trend that Tarantino first kicked off with Kill Bill, but if you're not yet tired of the genre, the film has more than a few moments of insane and violent glee. The cast alone is reason to see it—where else will you find Luke Skywalker, The Candyman, The Lawnmower Man, and the dude in the Donnie Darko rabbit suit in the same movie? (Plus Sonny Chiba and Danny Trejo!) Mark Hamill's demented performance stands above the rest, and has me excited about the prospect of seeing him in additional live-action films in the future. Magnolia's Sushi Girl Blu-ray release is fully loaded with hours of bonus material, strong picture quality, and a 7.1 lossless audio track, so don't hesitate to pick this one up if you're at all interested.
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