Hot on the heels of last weeks look at Tetsuo: the Iron Man I thought I would follow up with its spiritual successor – Electric Dragon 80000V. Both are a hark back to the good old days of Japanese tokusatsu – special effects movies, both embrace the medium of high contrast black and white, both delve into Japan’s urbanisation and most importantly both are absolutely brilliant films. Starring Tadanobu Asano (Survive Style 5+, Ichi The Killer) and Masatoshi Nagase (Suicide Circle), the film breaks a couple of rules that you would expect from a cult underground film, there is no gore, no sex, no exploitation at all actually, which lesser films in the same category like Rubber’s Lover rely on. Instead we have Ishii Sogo reigning in two of the best actors of their generation in an exhilarating, frantic mash-up of Hardcore guitars, lizards and Jim Morrison into a film where every single shot is spot-on.
Continue reading for a look at the film and some of my favorite touches that all go together to make this a timeless classic.
Plot wise you have “Dragon Eye” Jim Morrison (not a lizard king) vs “Thunderbolt Buddha”. Basically Jim Morrison has the spirit of lizards stuck in his brain that comes out when he is angered and generates electricity (like dragons of Japanese lore), The Buddha was struck by lighting as a child which left half of him cased in bronze to earth him (hence the mask) and he draws out Jim in order to get another dose of lighting to give him the energy he apparently needs. Anyway, it works, go with it. There are some nice touches like the Buddha being somewhat schizophrenic and literally divided in half, next to Jim Morrison in his snake skin trousers desperately seeking an outlet for his curse through his guitar.
It is a real visual feast of a film and one that just makes excuses to show you the shots that the director was after, but seeing as it all works, who is to mind. Yes, Jim Morrison does rather indulgently get a couple of long guitar solos (The actor Asano plays for a couple of bands), but it just fits into part of the hypnotic blur that the film becomes. Adding to that, and one of my personal favorite touches, is the stark use of stylised text that the film cuts to to exaggerate the dialogue. Yes, a bit of a manga touch, but because the text is moving, it reigns it back to feeling stylised and not just aping a tired device. Here are some of my favorite examples:
Given the tiny budget and the fact that everyone involved knew that they were pretty much aiming for the same audience that fell in love with Tetsuo all those years ago, it was marketed as a cult film with tie-in gigs and achingly trendy screenings. Check out the very nonchalant poster (you do have to keep in mind that both these actors are huge names usually splashed across billboards).
If I were to criticise the film I might say that it lacks the intellectual depth, that gave Tetsuo such impact, but on the other hand it is much more accessible, both in plot and in direction (there is no giggly camera work to be found here). I would also say that Asano’s Jim does have significant emotional depth that Tetsuo lacks, in particular the scene when he finds his beloved reptiles dead next to his dismantled guitar really got me, as did some of the dialogue have me laughing.
I would like to be able to say that there is some deep allegory for Japan’s electric jungle, etc, in the film, but to be honest it is pretty light, as it should be – that is simply not what the film is about. One thing you could never say about it, is that it is boring – even if you hate it, you are not going to be able to look away.
So even if it is a bit of a bother to track down, I thoroughly recommend getting to grips with this film. It is a real aesthetic delight with an amazing soundtrack that makes me miss the punk dives of Koenji even more than usual. Enjoy.