Jan 11, 2011

Tokyo Fist

It has been said that authors only have one book in them and usually keep writing the same book but in a different way. To some degree, I think that is also true with auteur filmmakers. Japanese film director Shinya Tsukamoto is probably best known for his cyberpunk masterpiece Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Twice, Tsukamoto has tried and failed to recapture the hypnotic industrial majesty of Tetsuo: The Iron Man with two very forgettable sequels. Finally, with Tokyo Fist, a boxing film, Tsukamoto was able to once again capture the misery but eventual triumph of a bodily transformation that was so beautifully yet grotesquely expressed in Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Like Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the protagonist of Tokyo Fist is trapped in a world of abstract industry and technology. Only with an atavistic reawakening of nature can both protagonists in each film reclaim what is so organically theirs. In Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the protagonist turns into a machine and decides to destroy industrialized Tokyo, his only true option for reclaiming nature. In Tokyo Fist, the protagonist bulks up (pure muscle, no metal needed) and becomes an excellent fighter so he can destroy his former friend in a desperate attempt at winning back his ungrateful fiancée. 

No matter how well a woman deceives herself (often marrying a man because of his prestige and income), she is still an instinctive animal that is attracted to testosterone and muscles. In Tokyo Fist, the fiancée (Hizuru) of the film’s protagonist Tsudo (played by Tsukamoto) decides to leave her man when an aggressive boxer named Kojima (played by Shinya Tsukamoto’s brother) beats up her husband-to-be. After all, her fiancé Tsudo lives a mechanical and monotonous life selling insurance door-to-door and there is surely nothing exciting about that. Unfortunately for infatuated Hizuru, Kojima is only interested in getting close to Tsudo and the traitorous woman is merely used as bait. Due to creaming her pants out of excitement, after seeing Kojima’s undisputable martial prowess and ability to kick her fiancé’s tiny Jap ass, Hizuru violently pierces her own ears and even gets a tribal tattoo on her arm. The psychological/physical transformation of his dame becomes a great concern for Tsudo and he decides pushing his fists (instead of just pencils) will be the way to get back his wife. 

I never expected the Japanese to be great boxers but Tokyo Fist certainly packs cinematic punches. Unsurprisingly, the film is full of the quick hitting editing that originally helped gain notoriety for Testuo: The Iron Man. There is no doubt in my mind that boxing (like metal) is a fetish of director Shinya Tsukamoto. Right from the beginning of Tokyo Fist, the boxer Kojima and his body becomes highly stylized. If there ever was a director that could make the gushing of blood a poetic art, it is Shinya Tsukamoto as the film Tokyo Fist testifies to. In philosophy, Tokyo Fist is a lot like the overrated film Fight Club but only less blatant (yet more blatantly homoerotic) in the way Tsukamoto was able to execute the film. Only by reclaiming their masculinity can the men in both of these films feel content in a world of cosmopolitanism and technological bureaucracy. A great example of the celebration of masculinity featured in Tokyo Fist is when Hizuru tells Kojima to forget about the boxing match, he states, “You’ll be my foe in the ring? Since when do you have balls?” After Tsudo starts to bulk up and beat men to a savage pulp, Kojima surprisingly begins to realize his life is at stake. When Hizuru happily cheers on Kojima in regards to the boxing match with Tsudo, Kojima angrily yells, “You stupid bitch, you know nothing about it. A human life is at stake.” Whereas Kojima only wanted to make a man out of his friend, Tsudo is ready to battle to the death, all because of a woman that could care less about which man is left dead. 

At the end of Tokyo Fist, Tsudo is left with one-eye but he now carries a smile of confidence that he lacked at the beginning of the film. Technological Tokyo almost completely effeminized Tsudo but it took a deadly challenge with a caring friend to reawaken the man that was trapped in his emaciated body. Unlike Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, Tokyo Fist is paced well enough to work as a boxing film and makes Scorsese’s film feel like ungraciously aged antiquated cinema by comparison. In his Futurist Manifesto, F. T. Marinetti wrote “Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.” Tokyo Fist is certainly a film that makes poetry out of violence, no doubt a lesson for your typical samurai-lapsed Americanized Japanese man to learn from. 

-Ty E

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