Sunday, February 26, 2006

Fukui'in Up Your Mind!

Some days I just have to smile... walking up and down the aisles of the local chain store I spied multiple copies of two films I once thought I'd never see good copies of.
Funny how that happens... but now the DVD boom tubes seem to be unloading on we horror/bizarro/cult fans on a daily basis and I try to keep up. So...if you thought the pseudo snuff of The Guinea Pig Boxset was a strange choice for Best Buy to stock, here are two more from the land of the Rising Sun... The Sex/Screams/Fuck/Run/Sinema of Shozin Fukui!
The recent Unearthed Films DVD releases in the "Japanese Cyberpunk Collection" have dredged up a pair of films usually viewed via scrubby dubbed and poorly translated bootlegs-and expose them to the crystalline light of your DVD player's laser beam so that we can all see what lurks in the mind of Shozin Fukui.
The term cyberpunk was not coined for Japanese product, but it is arguable that as a culture Japan has a distinct lead on stories that deserve such a moniker. With a host of anime features and a long tradition of manga that eagerly bend the edges of conventional science fiction, as well as the fantastic images created by studios such as Toei and Daei for decades, the creators who would work in what we categorize as cyberpunk have a deeply ingrained cinematic leap ahead that was unavailable to many other parts of the world. The most visible name that would become equated to this style in live action cinema would be Shinya Tsukamoto-an astonishingly talented filmmaker who belongs at the top of any discussion of "cyberpunk" material. Hand carving out his mechanical nightmares awash in sexually charged emotion and violent outbursts and striking a distribution deal that would expose him worldwide with Tetsuo The Iron Man (1988), Tsukamoto has continued to evolve and challenge both himself and his viewers to this day.
But fans outside of Japan who were fascinated by Tsukamoto's blood and oil catastrophes couldn't resist looking further at Japan's underground of frenetic and industrial noise tainted cinema, occasionally finding blurry nuggets passed from collector to collector to sustain them. The work of Sogo Ishii became more recognized worldwide, especially his powerful collaborations with industrial music icons Einstürzende Neubauten in ½ Mensch. Suddenly bootleg catalogs were listing items such as Death Powder by Shigeru Izumiya and two particularly enticing and often buzzed over films called Pinocchio 964 and Rubber's Lover. Those titles...oh, they make you wonder what could be contained within.
Perhaps it was the perversity of the images sometimes pasted into fanzines in fuzzy black and white, one using a bizarre image of an strange puppet looking man and the other with an obvious fetishistic appeal that caused the stir. And while they could be seen by the curious it was hard to appreciate the films under an nth degree haze of video murk and lack of proper translations to understand. What was easily visible however was a raw sense of design that bypassed the well pounded route of obscure images and frantic characters screeching from point start to conclusion while buried in some KlingKlang distorted soundscape and forged out a very unique storytelling perspective.
Oh, and vomit, lots of nasty vomit.
Well friends, no more…thanks to Unearthed Films and these amazing releases the world can now enjoy a complete and crystal clear look through the eyes of the singular talent of Shozin Fukui. With stunning transfers, short film extras and interviews-these present us a mystery solved… and the answers may not be what you expect.

"I'll suck your brains out and fuck your empty head!!!" - Motomiya from Rubber's Lover

Pinocchio 964 begins exactly as you would imagine. With body fluids gushing, naked Japanese women writhing and stark sexualized images flowing over a synapse squashing industrial noise soundtrack… a mysterious voice over intones the message that someone or something is being discarded. It doesn't bode well... the tone of manipulation and menace is hopping right out of the gate at you. Just as the viewer's nerves get jangled up in a bunch, Fukui wisely sidesteps the manic protocol of "more and faster" and engages in creating a pleasantly charming little drama about an amnesiac homeless woman who draws blueprints in her spare time, and how she comes to adopt a barely cognizant sex android with a tiny tuft of hair on his head named Pinocchio (which she reads from the markings burnt into his skin). All is well as the girl, named Himiko, tries to teach her new friend the fine points of eating for free and speaking his own name. But there are, of course, dire forces at work as the previous abuser of Pinocchio is revealed as grotesque gothic slut who demands firmer erections from Pinocchio's creators-and discarded our poor slob because of stiffness issues. Talk about something to set the male psyche back... vomiting may be the answer though!
This upsets the weird bunch that own the sexdroid greatly…and they want him back for more work to be done. With the chase on, something odd happens as memory returns for both Pinocchio-who is literally evolved by his thoughts-and Himiko, who is perhaps not what she seems.
Not at all.
After vomiting for several minutes and devouring it back up, the final battle lines are drawn and the screaming, beating, bleeding, fighting, fucking and obscure ending are all that's left. Draining for the viewer and the characters, it's a high-wire act on film… sometimes losing it's balance in the dredge of overkill while at other turns brilliantly ridiculous with guerilla filmed sequences of mass panic adding a startling realism to the utter nonsense. And Pinocchio 964 isn't afraid to be funny, which certainly helps… the evil leader is filmed like a Warner Bros. cartoon maniac gone awry, drinking regurgitated spit from a bowl of cherries and leering crazily directly into the camera.
Suzuki's direction and intent are the stars of Pinocchio 964 though he is lucky enough to have two very good lead performances from Hage Suzuki and Onn Chan to keep the characters afloat amidst the scenery. It would have been far easier to focus exclusively on the sleazy and repellent parts of the tale (and Fukui certainly does that with extreme glee and clarity), but instead he chooses to use quiet emotional character development with that same intensity, giving the viewer a reason to care about the characters as they devolve, spurt and sputter away from reality. Where Shinya Tsukamoto used chaos to convey the emotional jabs of his "cyberpunk" films, Fukui uses narrative instead. Bravely done and wisely constructed, Pinocchio 964 stands amongst the lump sum of this little genre proudly different from its peers, and perhaps more challenging for it.

Several years later, Fukui would expulse one more feature film…the leeringly vile and wonderfully orchestrated Rubber's Lover. Again, if it must be classified, the term cyberpunk would fit this film, but it is different and exciting in it's own way and not a mere retread of Pinocchio 964. On the surface it is more akin to Tetsuo The Iron Man, shot in black and white with a stiff metal hard on for showing mechanized death and mayhem…but this surface is all they share. Tetsuo is a brilliant emotional coaster ride, while Rubber's Lover is a hentai-enhanced brainfuck that sticks to straight narrative and strict form. A small and immoral group of scientists have concocted something they call the DDD (Direct Digital Drive) that can extract human conscience and dig out the psychic powers beneath. Of course, it wouldn't be fun if these powers weren't destructive and Fukui doesn't disappoint us. But mad science requires funding and fresh victims. As the dark cadre torture subjects into meaty carcasses in hopes of gaining the result they want, the darkly shadowed powers that be decide that they have had enough of the scientists diddling about and send in Kiku (who is on her way out of the company) to close up the shop. It doesn't work as the vicious and obsessed Motomiya turns on his partner Shimika-a spastic with an ether addiction-and Kiku. Strapping them into the torture machines he reaches his goal, but unleashes the fury of the previously weaker man as a result. All hell breaks loose and it becomes a true orgy of destruction that you simply have to view to appreciate.
Trust me.

Rubber's Lover is an insane thrillgiver for the jaded viewer-and one I'll be spinning many more times. The entire movie plays out like a good industrial punk album, building on its strengths and gaining power in the repetition of unexpectedly violent beats. The set design, camera work and outrageous performances are unnerving and put Fukui right up there with Tsukamoto or Ishii in it's very best moments. During it's less inspired sequences it is still great fun and will keep you laughing at the overkill.

The DVD transfers of both films are simply stunning, Unearthed Productions has never skimped on quality and they sure didn't start here. Generous supplements are included. Pinocchio 964 contains a short film from 1988 entitled Caterpillar, which is a straight out blast of punk rock and bizarre art images set to an extremely disconcerting soundtrack that challenges the viewers eyes and ears to attempt to synch up continuously. At 32 minutes it runs too long but is an interesting viewing experience one time. Rubber's Lover contains the fascinating, and mercifully shorter ten-minute film Gerorisuto. Made in 1987 it contains riffs later played in Pinocchio 964 and is hypnotic with images of vomit and violation. A short sharp apocalypse, this would be a great prequel to watching the movies.
Both discs also contain interviews with Fukui recorded at the same time, broken up by the discussion of each feature. Pinocchio 964 contains a longer interview and recounts Fukui's start in film making, shooting without permits in Japan (and odd currency that helps you get by) and some very nice insight into the inspirations behind the film. Rubber's Lover focuses more on that film and talks about Fukui's views on cinema in general. He expresses the dislike of genre generalizations that are part of the charm of Pinocchio 964 as well as some other nifty film viewing habits.
Beautifully packaged, transferred and loaded with enough information to make you vomit knowledge and eat it back up, these are fantastic entertainment and thanks to the hard work of Unearthed, a definitive collection of a renegade filmmaker as well.
Be sure to stick around for the trailers…Sogo Ishii's stunning (and most likely Cyberpunk Collection material) Electric Dragon 80,000v is included as well as Muroga's Zombie 3 redux via Japan JUNK as well as the trailers for each film.
Now then...I do have Fukui's HENTAILAND to check out... I'll let you know if I survive!


Anonymous said...

Great reviews! I actually found Rubber's Lover at Best Buy of all places! I classify these types of movies as "Japanese Cyberpunk" - which are movies that really give you a "no boundaries to humanity" feeling (I still have a few movies to review in this category). And I agree, the transfers are terrific. Also interesting, especially for Rubber's Lover, it was amazing what Fukui could do with such a low budget.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually pissed that these movies are getting DVD releases in the States. I have dozens of VHS dubs of movies that you just couldn't find anywhere that you can now buy DVDs for. Take Pulse, for example, which I bought on bootleg shortly after its Japanese video release. Four years later, not only does it have a Region 1 DVD, its getting a freakin' theatrical release! Oh, the injustice!

David A. Zuzelo said...

Thanks sfam (and for the link also), I really enjoyed Fukui's efforts. He comes off as a good guy on those interviews as well. He must really love vomit.
e raises a sort of fun point, I know that feeling all to well (hmm..I bought UNSUBBED dvds of the Tomie films!!) But, I'll take em where I can. Interesting to see GOZU (I'll post my review up here shortly) sitting at Best Buy as well. A totally phacked up flick. I laugh when I think about kids who shoplift this stuff and what they will be like in 10 years because of it.