Cult Japanese filmmaker Yoshihiro Nishimura, who started off doing special effects before moving into the director’s chair, is best known for pulpy, action-horror fare with self-explanatory titles such as Mutant Girls Squad and Tokyo Gore Police, as well as the more enigmatically monikered Meatball Machine Kodoku.
Tokyo Dragon Chef, I’m assuming, lies tonally between the one about gore police and the one about meatball machines given it’s about a pair of ageing yakuza thugs, Ryu (Yasukaze Motomiya) and Tatsu (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi), who decide to open a ramen restaurant. Their speciality, which does indeed look darn tasty, is a recipe Tatsu honed while doing time and working in the prison’s mess hall, a kind of ma po tofu with ramen.
Soon, their tiny venue is drawing rave reviews from YouTubers and a pretty schoolgirl (played by pop star Rinne Yoshida) comes round to sing songs about ramen because – of course – this is also a musical. But then another pair of rival ex-yakuza types (the joke is that all four actors used to play gangsters in straighter films back in the day) start up a food truck business selling ramen across the street. What’s more, they’ve hired a buxom, pink-haired creature in a latex bodysuit (Saiko Yatsuhashi) who may not actually be human and somehow never feels the strain of the enormous quantities of food she can eat.
The Japanese dialogue is probably much funnier than the subtitles make it seem, but it’s hard not to suspect that even native speakers might find the film’s concept more amusing than its execution. You have probably seen TikTok videos with more budget than this film. But it’s playful and brisk, and what’s not to love about any movie that has baddies who go around with giant eyeball masks on their heads, just like the immortal experimental punk band the Residents?
• Tokyo Dragon Chef is available on digital platforms from 25 January.