TADFF ’12: Sushi Girl

By Brandon Bastaldo

When I think of “body sushi”, I envision a loud clamoring room, filled with Sake sipping business men on a drunken night of indulgence. The Japanese call it Nyotaimori—which literally translates to ‘female body presentation’. Its an act in which a beautiful young woman lays dead-still for hours while patrons knock back sushi rolls and Sashimi neatly set all over her naked body.

Kern Saxton’s feature film debut Sushi Girl may take place in a room full of drunken dudes, but the only pleasure this gruesome psychological thriller brings is surely to an audience with a serious hankering for guns, gore and sick kicks. Saxton’s earnest camera work and stylish story keeps Sushi Girl from buckling under its potentially depthless premise and thankfully this movie brings more to the table than just a gorgeous girl laden in raw tuna.

The adumbral, ghoul-like Duke (Tony Todd) assembles a group of old friends to his new dig: a dilapidated shit-hole restaurant with a Japanese-style dining room. Duke’s first dinner party guest is the frantic and outspoken smart ass Martin (Mark Hamill). Subtle hints slowly reveal that lurking beneath Martin’s coy exterior rests a sharp tongue and sadistic humor– and this would make Martin no different than the two other snakes Duke eventually throws in this death pit. The barbarous Max (Andy Mackenzie) and care-free, rich boy cokehead Francis (James Duval) are gathered here to ‘celebrate’ their old heist team member Fish’s (Noah Hathaway) prison release. As the crooks try to torture locations of missing loot out of Fish, Sushi Girl plays out as a compelling ‘who done it’, horrifically unravelling before the mysterious sushi girl forced to sit at bay on their table.

Co-written by Saxton and Millionaire Matchmaker COO and reality TV star Destin Pfaff, Sushi Girl’s thoughtfully groomed gallery of cut-throat killers is this duo’s first obvious nod to Reservoir Dogs. Taking place in a derelict building, recounting flashbacks of their failed heist and acts of heinous torture align this film with Tarantino’s ambitions– but what elevates Sushi Girl above cheap imitation is its equally unforgettable band of thieves. Saxton and Pfaff practically lift Todd out of the Candyman trilogy and plop him down to embrace his shadowy menace; Mackenzie’s fucked up ‘wool hat boy’ mentality makes him a shoo-in for Rob Zombies Firefly family and Hathaway looks as if Atreyu grew up on a steady diet of Cocaine. Can’t forget Duval too- who looks just as dead eyed-clueless as his Frank the Bunny from Donnie Darko.

But its Hamill  flamboyant Martin who provides what is hands down the Hamill’s best performance since playing a doe-eyed boy from Tatooine. Better yet, Saxton and Pfaff put one of the most intriguing spins on the ‘heist gone wrong’ film I’ve ever seen: Martin is not only obviously queer, but a complete fucking bad ass. He wields guns with the boys, holds his ground and strikes back when repeatedly called a ‘faggot’ by Max and even delivers a savage torture session comparable to Mr. Blonde’s (Michael Madsen) infamously disturbed ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ segment in Reservoir Dogs.

Sushi Girl sees Hamill throwing us for a grand size performance which might just be the highest point in his 30 year career.

Sushi Girl’s only suffering is a weak ending, that makes for an honest attempt at a twist that just barely falls short of being anything truly shocking. Still, the copious amount of bullets that fly in this film, coupled with its agonizing and prolonged torture scene—have you ever seen someone smacked across the face with a sock filled with broken glass?!—make this impressively scripted noir-horror show an affable offering to Tarantino’s church of homage, boobs and blood.

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