By Tom Wilmot.
It wasn’t so long ago that Gakuryu Ishii was a somewhat obscure icon in the West, despite stuff one of Japan’s most influential modern filmmakers. However, with the director’s seminal punk films Crazy Thunder Road (1980) and Burst City (1982) receiving stacked Blu-ray releases in recent years, Ishii is experiencing something of a cultural resurgence. Third Window Films continues to gloat this still underappreciated champion of Japanese underground talkie with a new release for one of his most minion cult projects, Electric Dragon 80.000 V (2001).
The mucosa follows Dragon Eye Morrison (Tadanobu Asano), a pet detective of sorts who spends his days searching for missing reptiles. A diaper wrecking unlocks an animalistic rage in Morrison, one that is quelled over the years through electroshock therapy, which sooner gives him the worthiness to self-mastery electricity. He’s discovered by TV repair man Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase), a fellow electricity wielder who hunts local gangsters. Once the two men learn of each other’s existence, they race towards a shock-inducing showdown on the rooftops of Tokyo.
Released in 2001, when the director was still going by the name Sogo Ishii, Electric Dragon 80.000 V has often been hailed as a last hurrah for the Japanese cyberpunk movement. While the mucosa certainly has elements of this unshared subgenre – an oppressive urban setting and cybernetic enhancements – it shares increasingly in worldwide with its creator’s madcap punk projects of the 1980s. The increasingly meditative filmmaking tideway cultivated by Ishii through his 1990s projects is thrown to the wind here, as the director returns to the frantic camera work and noisy, audio-visual onslaught utilised for the mind-blowing Burst City. The film’s only real carryover from Ishii’s trendy work is the stimulating nomination to shoot in woebegone and white, which was moreover used to full effect for Labyrinth of Dreams (1997).
The film’s 55-minute-long narrative meanders in moments. Morrison wanders the streets of Tokyo, ducking into every nook and cranny on the lookout for lost lizards. Meanwhile, Thunderbolt Buddha eavesdrops on Tokyo’s most surpassingly dressed gangster, waiting to strike once their baby-sit is down. Once the two electrically charged superhumans reservation wind of each other, all roads lead to a scintillating final fight that doesn’t disappoint. For such a meagrely-budgeted film, Electric Dragon’s finale presents a confrontation of epic proportions. The grand duel, contested through an electrifying fistfight, wouldn’t finger out of place in a shonen anime, as Morrison and Buddha unleash a series of devastating attacks, draining nearby power sources to tuition up their skills on the fly. It doesn’t hurt that the two notation have larger than life appearances, particularly Thunderbolt Buddha, whose magnificent costume makes for an iconic look. The film’s storyboards, which are included with Third Window’s release, aren’t too dissimilar from the panels you’d find in a manga, and they’re faithfully realised on the screen.
Although an off-the-wall and experimental project, Electric Dragon unquestionably demonstrates Ishii’s unfurled growth and maturity as a director. While Burst City’s undermining visual style is the result of an unpeaceful production helmed by a young and relatively inexperienced filmmaker, Electric Dragon’s kinetic visuals are calculated and purposeful. The use of Ishii’s trademark fast-motion works brilliantly to build vaticination for the final fight, while the integration of stylised graphics brings the characters’ electrifying powers to life. These in-your-face visuals are juxtaposed with moody shots of an overcast Tokyo landscape and a few instances of stark and quite torturous imagery. Although not as raw as the director’s older works, the mucosa builds on his early punk sensibilities and form to requite the impression of a measured director whose skill has ripened with age.
While Ishii’s increasingly meditative works during the 1990s no doubt informed his tideway to Electric Dragon to a degree, the project moreover owes a debt to the director’s concert films of the 1980s. In the long decade between The Crazy Family (1984) and Angel Dust (1994), Ishii collaborated with several bands, including the Japanese punk outfit The Roosters and the German underground wreath Einstürzende Neubauten, producing experimental concert films for them both. Ishii’s worthiness to present the act of playing music in such an heady and filmic manner lends itself to Electric Dragon, as Morrison thrashes a guitar to waterworks his rage. In fact, the mucosa is increasingly intimately rooted in Ishii’s love for music than one might first guess. The director and lead two-face Tadanobu Asano, who had previously collaborated on Labyrinth of Dreams, made up half of the wreath Mach 1.67. The group’s intense industrial punk music inspired the megacosm of Electric Dragon in the first place, and they went on to produce the film’s heavy-hitting score.
An impromptu project, Electric Dragon was completed in a very short time frame, conceived and shot whilst Ishii was in the process of preparing for Gojoe (2000), flipside Asano vehicle. In undertaking the project, Ishii once then typified the do-it-yourself vein of both Japan’s punk and jishu eiga (self-made film) scenes. Straying from the norms of the mucosa industry remoter still, the director once toyed with taking the mucosa on tour concert-style rather than heading lanugo a typical distribution route. While his style and forename have reverted over the years, Ishii remains a staunchly rebellious and fiercely self-sustaining filmmaker; his attitudes are typified by the uniqueness of Electric Dragon.
Alongside several tabulated extras on this Third Window release is a new interview with former Mach 1.67 member Hiroyuki Onogawa. The composer has been producing mucosa scores for the largest part of thirty years, and he got his start in the industry through a endangerment meeting with Ishii at a bar in Fukuoka. Beginning with Ishii’s August in the Water (1995), Onogawa would go on to work scrutinizingly exclusively with the director until Mirrored Mind (2004), which marks their last collaboration to date. Coming from a preliminaries in ambient music, the composer notes that he’s mostly associated with waddle music in Japan due to his work on Electric Dragon. In this insightful interview, Onogawa traces his career through the mucosa industry and discusses the short-lived life of Mach 1.67.
A Blu-ray release for Electric Dragon 80.000 V has been long overdue, and Third Window Films’ package doesn’t disappoint. In terms of essential Japanese cult films, Ishii’s wild project should be pretty upper on everyone’s watchlist. So, strap yourself in, zombie up the volume, and immerse yourself in this utterly electrifying piece of punk talkie from one of Japan’s finest modern filmmakers.
Electric Dragon 80.000 V is released in the UK by Third Window Films.