Being a lonely, sluggish, and slob-like fellow in an absurd campy leopard-colored detective outfit is probably not the way German New Cinema master auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder expected to be last remembered, but such was his fate after overdosing on cocaine shortly after his final screen appearance as the lead protagonist in the softcore dystopian cyberpunk flick Kamikaze 1989 (1982) aka Kamikaze 89 directed by Wolf Gremm (Death or Freedom, Fabian). While many have mixed feelings about Fassbinder’s final auteur-piece Querelle (1982) – a renegade cinematic reworking of Jean Genet's 1947 novel of the same name that more than hints at the fact that the ill-fated filmmaker was heading in a completely different direction aesthetically due to the film’s elaborate expressionistic sets and international star cast, Kamikaze 89 would prove to be an ostensibly depressing and even embarrassing celluloid affair; both for the fallen star (although the auteur personally enjoyed the experience and performance) and the audience. Based on the 1964 novel Murder on the Thirty-First Floor by Swedish Marxist journalist/crime novelist Per Wahlöö, Kamikaze 89 was a cinematic work where Herr Fassbinder finally got to live out his lifelong dream of being a star hero of the silverscreen and not a mere defeated victim like in his own self-directed works Katzelmacher (1969) aka Cock Artist and Fox and His Friends (1975) aka Faustrecht der Freiheit. As Kamikaze 89 co-scriptwriter Robert Katz wrote in his biography on Fassbinder entitled Love Is Colder Than Death (1987), “while Rainer didn’t quite direct himself, Gremm rarely restrained him from doing whatever he pleased,” which is quite obvious for those that have seen it as the film essentially feels like a high-priced cinematic vehicle for Fassbinder to have fun and forget about the worries of directing serious films. Thus it should be no surprise that Kamikaze 89 is like Welt am Draht (1973) aka World on a Wire for philistines as directed by post-Polyester (1981) John Waters (had he not failed out of film school) on sunny and sardonic cyberpunk steroids. Featuring Fassbinder’s ex-boy-toy Günther Kaufmann (Whity, The Third Generation) as his sometimes sidekick and his favorite mature leading lady Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Mother Küsters' Trip to Heaven) in another important role, as well as cameos from his friends Frank Ripploh (director of the 1981 gay cult movie Taxi zum Klo) and Juliane Lorenz (Fassbinder’s young film editor who would later become the head of the Fassbinder Foundation) and cinematography done by Xaver Schwarzenberger (Berlin Alexanderplatz, Querelle), Kamikaze 89 is the Fass-bande gone kraut Hollywood.
Kamikaze 89 director Wolf Gremm described his collaboration with the German New Wave Superstar auteur as follows: “When I plan a film, I often think in terms of animal images for the characters. In conceiving Kamikaze 89’, I always had Fassbinder in mind as a leopard, but I never told him this. At the first costume fitting I showed him fifteen possible futuristic detective and police costumes of very different styles. It happened like this: He came in. I was smoking a cigar. I offered him a Camel cigarette. He looked over the costumes. I smiled. Then he looked at me and smiled too. He said, “You like this leopard one.” And I said, “Don’t you?” And he said, “Let me try it on.” He looked at himself in the mirror and said, “I love me. Now I’m Lieutenant Jansen.” From this point on, we never had to discuss the style of the film.” Indeed, the style of Kamikaze 89 is like technocratic mid-camp chic on cyber-crack as a sort of hyper-cynical science fiction flick for those that know, but absolutely loath the genre as a big-budget Teutonic brother to Slava Tsukerman's sci-fi cult classic Liquid Sky (1982). Indeed, if you loved any of the films in The Matrix trilogy and/or any of the aesthetically sterile, sentimentalist sci-fi flicks directed by Steven Spielberg, Kamikaze 89 is most certainly not the film for you. In fact, if you felt like a born-again humanist after watching Planet of the Apes (1968) and/or Soylent Green (1973), you're probably better off watching the latest Roland Emmerich flick than watching Fassbinder fight cyber-crime, even if the German New Wave auteur – with his bloated belly, unkempt beard, and bad acne – did resemble a sci-fi fan-boy during the production of Kamikaze 89.
As for Rainer Werner Fassbinder's thoughts on Kamikaze 89, his biographer Robert Katz wrote that according to director Wolf Gremm and Juliane Lorenz, the German New Cinema auteur, “loved it, especially seeing himself in every scene,” so much so that there was talk of two Kamikaze sequels and the Querelle director even, “kept the phony leopard-skin suit and wore it from time to time during the few remaining months of his life.” Fassbinder also, “developed a big-brotherly fondness for Wolf, whose easily ignited childlike enthusiasm was sunshine in Rainer’s leaden sky,” so much so that Kamikaze 89 director was staying at his filmmaker friend's house on the night of June 9–10, 1982; the nighttide hours when German New Cinema’s Superstar director inevitably perished from his own excesses. Although Gremm did not earn the much prized Sour Lemon award for Kamikaze 89, he did manage to offer Fassbinder a couple months of irreplaceable joy from his short life of controlled chaos before the filmmaker finally lost his grip over personal pandemonium. A filmic farewell to Fassbinder, Kamikaze 89 is probably only of interest to fans of the filmmaker, but quite remarkably, like most decent films (and I am not saying it is anything resembling a masterpiece, not even a minor one), it manages to get better with subsequent viewings.