Sep 21, 2010

Bullet Ballet


Existing on the fringes of cinema is Shinya Tsukamoto, the Japanese nothing-but-an-auteur who (arguably) developed the resolute be-all end-all body horror in its finalized and post-cocooned state. With such a bevvy of silver horrors underneath his exasperated arms, Tsukamoto set out to tackle the Japanese youth rebel boom of the 90s. Following in the wake of the mutinous children, Bullet Ballet, Battle Royale, and much more were created to chronicle the horrors of moonlighting young killers. Ordinary teenagers by day with jobs beneficial to the community of Tokyo as a whole (or so they thought), only to turn into rough-tough muggers, looters, and overall monsters who seek a supposed rapture of youth through sex, drugs, and violence. Supposedly Tsukamoto was mugged by a gang of the aforementioned. Like the absolute madman that he is, he didn't resist or pity himself. Feigning confrontation even with his peak physical condition, he observes their actions, their emotions, possibly the wild excitement in their eyes. This is the same voyeuristic approach from Tsukamoto that I'd expect nothing less of, especially from the famous Japanese auteur with his disillusioned peace-in-rebellion mindset. After the dust and fear settle, Bullet Ballet is born . . . in a frenzied statement and fictional documentation on the addicting pleasures of anarchy. But every rose has its thorn, as Douglas Jerrold put it, free from context. The question is, does Bullet Ballet qualify as entertainment?

First and foremost, Bullet Ballet is as wonderfully in touch with the flickering brilliance of black and white as demonstrated in A Snake of June and the better half of Tsukamoto's poetic yet fluctuating career. Chu Ishikawa marks his frequent return in most of all Tsukamoto's works and doesn't disappoint with the resurgence of his trademark twisting and hammering metal in a noise-punk admittance of layered guitar additions. With the aesthetic dissected from Tetsuo and the better half of his early Super8 shorts, Bullet Ballet looks and feels the way a black & white film regarding the regression of anger but cannot fit the part of a classic example of experimental Japanese filmmaking. The story revolves around a self-centered television executive who stumbles home in a stupor only to realize that his girlfriend of ten years committed suicide. Unable to come to grips with the resonating fact that her death is at the hands of his oblivious and domicile nature, Goda becomes enraged and seeks to find the exact model of gun, the .38 special, so he too can commit suicide. This was the plan, however, until he gets mixed up with a gang of youthful and irritable speed-freaks.

(Tetsuo: the Iron Man)
(Bullet Ballet)

Rather than sticking straight with the fetishism of metal and the likes, Tsukamoto hones it down to a specific artistry of steel - guns. The gun metal fixation from Goda presents some very serious symptoms of Taxi Driver melodrama with the scene of phallic extensions from his self-goading in the mirror to the shirtless pantomime trigger-teasings, it's obvious that Bullet Ballet was made with a special significant nod to the Western cultures while steadily embracing the Eastern side of things, mainly referring to the great lengths and difficulties Goda endures to finally land his hands on his prized possession, whereas it's remarkably easy to purchase a weapon in the states. After stumbling upon a young punk named Chisato, whom Goda rescued from falling on the subway tracks days earlier, Goda is tormented by her and the gang religiously, being mugged and beaten over the course of the entire run time. Strangely, I feel no sorrow towards Goda in the slightest making Bullet Ballet seem like a nicely shot student film with a budget fit nicely behind it. Perhaps it's this or the wistful fact that Chisato reminds me of an old flame - so blindly wrapped in selfish exploits proceeding a future fueled by "art" and circlejerk meditation on photography, all the while juggling men to both extremes of friendship and romantic entanglement. These ample musings of the hipster millennium crowd are the driving force behind my indifference to the character of Chisato and her fate.

Many flaws surround Bullet Ballet, whether it's the pedestrian filling surrounded by an excellent opening and climax, the events transpiring in the midst of this dark drama are ultimately forgettable and not worth even viewing. For lack of a better description, Bullet Ballet is a lost idea, wandering alone on a desolate stretch of highway with no real place to go but to follow asphalt. Following the temperament of Tetsuo: the Iron Man, the camerawork becomes frenetic during periods of high volume, so much that what action and throttled stress does compose within Bullet Ballet is strewn across the screen wildly leaving me bewildered and wondering what just happened. Rather than dismissing Bullet Ballet as the weaker film of Tsukamoto's art archives, I find myself able to compassionately appreciate this ill-received film as an exorcism of conflicting ideas of youth and violence and violent youth.

Only in the final ten minutes does Bullet Ballet even out and become a moving work of beauty. The mistakes we make and the consequences we hope to escape are brought to the stand. Tsukamoto created this rapid descent in quality with a fervor that I must commend and in part to his signature promise of bringing it all together in the end. If not as a rousing piece of entertainment, then certainly Bullet Ballet can be transcribed as an ill-sought meditation on the aggravated assimilation into the violent underbelly of the mutinous city inhabitants. Bullet Ballet is perhaps his weakest solid effort, not counting the visual afterbirth that is Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, but regardless of the quality (or lack thereof) Bullet Ballet is still a consequential ceasefire to the rampant youth of Japan. What better way to retaliate upon a large group of people than to construct a film showing them in their most instinctive and amorous state.


1 comment:

JESCIE said...

.soon as i saw your title sid caesar as the moose in "bullets over broadway" came to mind but you can read more about that and how woody allen asked to use the title years later in caesars autobiography.