Toronto After Dark 2012: Sushi Girl Review (Robert Harding)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

Sushi Girl (2012)

Starring Tony Todd, James Duval, Noah Hathaway, Andy Mackenzie, and Mark Hamill

Directed by Kern Saxton

People have been paying tribute to their favourite films for decades. Films have been sequelled, rebooted, and remade. When a film is remade under a completely different guise without giving tribute to its source it usually falls under two categories. When it is well received it is considered an homage to the original, considered smart and given accolades. Films that aren’t well received are considered rip-offs, unoriginal and often forgotten.  Sushi Girl is not a reboot, sequel or remake but it’s similarities to other films are without dispute.

After serving six years in prison, keeping his mouth shut following a jewel theft that went horribly wrong, Fish (Noah Hathaway) meets up with his fellow thieves for a sushi dinner. Unfortunately for Fish, this crew isn’t about to leave until they get what’s theirs and only he knows where their diamonds ended up…or so they think.

Sushi Girl is getting very mixed reviews.  Many are calling it nothing new and a blatant rip-off of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (which itself was a “rip-off” of Ringo Lam’s City on Fire).  Others are stating that it is a fantastic homage to great heist movies. There’s no denying the similarities between Sushi Girl and Reservoir Dogs and City on Fire, but just like Reservoir Dogs has subtle differences from City on Fire, Sushi Girl has its own differences.

Much like Reservoir Dogs, Sushi Girl works well mainly because of its cast. With Noah Hathaway, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, James Duvall and Andy Mackenzie making up the main cast of jewel thieves you might think the film was filled with second rate actors but that is not the case. Mark Hamill stands out as a sadistic psychopath (clearly influenced by his Joker character), Andy Mackenzie could easily be an actual crazy enforcer in any biker gang and Tony Todd commands the screen whenever he opens his mouth.  In fact, Tony Todd needs to get more similar roles as he emanates  a “don’t fuck with me vibe.” The cast is rounded out with cameos from such names as Michael Biehn, Sonny Chiba, Danny Trejo and finally Cortney Palm who looks absolutely gorgeous as the title character.

Through fantastic characters and plenty of sushi this film managed to beat its way into my good books. I wouldn’t call this an homage or a rip-off but simply a new telling of a familiar and entertaining story.  I truly enjoyed the performances from Mark Hamill and Tony Todd and loved all the great cameos. If you are at all a fan of Reservoir Dogs or City on Fire I suggest giving Sushi Girl a chance, but keep an open mind.

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Fantasia 2012 – Sushi Girl Review (Matt Hodgson)

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Sushi Girl (2012)

Starring Tony Todd, James Duval, Noah Hathaway, Mark Hamill, and Andy Mackenzie

Directed by Kern Saxton

MINOR SPOILERS

When I started Entertainment Maven a few years ago it was not because I was in love with movies, but rather with the art of storytelling. Movies, books, video games, lyrics, there are countless mediums through which a competent storytelling can tell an enticing tale. However, throughout my life it has become clear that film has become the storytelling method of choice. By critiquing movies and attending festivals I have one of the most enjoyable ‘jobs’ I can imagine. Also, it is no secret to my friends and family that I would like to write a screenplay of my own one day. It is probably this frame of reference that made Sushi Girl especially upsetting for me to watch.

A Tarantino inspired crime thriller, Sushi Girl is the story of a ruthless band of criminals who get together after their newest member, Fish (Noah Hathaway), is released from prison after a 6-year term. The group reunites in a beautifully decorated dining room over a delicate sushi dinner served on the even more delicate naked body of a sushi girl. Tony Todd, James Duval, Mark Hamill and Andy Mackenzie round out the group of hardened criminals, each possessing a uniquely dangerous personality. The dinner quickly turns ugly as despite being ‘business’ partners, the men don’t seem to be the best of friends. Soon enough we learn that the real reason for the dinner is to find out the whereabouts of the jewels that went missing at the end of their last job. The men blame Fish and are convinced he has stashed the jewels somewhere, and they seem ready to get the information out of him by any means possible.

As you can see, Sushi Girl has an absolutely stellar cast, enough players to interest even the casual moviegoer, and all of the primary actors deliver. Mark Hamill gives a great performance as the sadistic and flamboyant Crow, while Tony Todd simply resonates one badass dude. Jimmy Duval was also particularly good as a poor-decision-making screw-up who is really a good guy at heart. The Chinese Ming Dynasty dining location is absolutely gorgeous, an excellent and thoughtful choice for what is certainly a theatre-inspired, dialogue driven film. Add to these points the nail-biting intensity of having five killers in a room, none of whom fully trust the others, and Sushi Girl should have been a home-run. Unfortunately, Sushi Girl had problems from the first phase of making a film, the script writing phase.

I understand how passionate writers can be of their work, it is one of the most toiling journeys a person can make, from starring at a blank page to the completed work. However, screenwriters must be very vigilant in evaluating their initial ideas before embarking on the journey. I always ask myself: ‘Is the idea interesting?’ ‘Is it a story a lot of people would want to hear, or is it just for me?’ ‘Is the idea adding some interesting new aspect to the body of films already out there (even if it’s just a unique genre mash-up)? I’ve had to learn to ask myself these questions the hard way. Unfortunately for the writers of Sushi Girl, they hit upon a sure-fire way to make an uninspired movie by having one of their central characters tied to chair and tortured for about 30 minutes. Maybe it worked for some earlier filmmakers, but this has to be one of the most annoying cliches to permeate horror and crime films. Its like a parasite. Unfortunately the problems don’t end here.

The dialogue sounds like written dialogue, it may be true, but it’s never a good sign when it’s blatantly obvious. Some of the actors are able to save some of the lines, particularly Hamill and Todd, but mediocre to sub-par dialogue in a dialogue driven movie is a recipe for disaster. Also, brief appearances by Michael Biehn and Danny Trejo got an eruption of applause from the crowd, but their unimportant roles could have been played by unknown actors with more effectiveness as it made the film feel like a recent episodes of SNL where James Franco randomly appears for the audience to clap at in lieu of humourous writing. And of course what bit of original filmmaking would be complete without a twist ending?

The filmmakers of Sushi Girl had the ultimate golden horseshoe, an amazing veteran cast and a beautiful location. It actually pains me to say it as everyone involved in the film seemed absolutely dedicated to it, but Sushi Girl is not much more than a wasted opportunity, an opportunity that most filmmakers won’t get in their entire careers.

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