964 Pinocchio
Medium: film
Year: 1991
Director: Shozin Fukui
Writer: Shozin Fukui, Makoto Hamaguchi, Naoshi Goda
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 97 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0225009/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 29 August 2013
It's Japanese cyberpunk and it's almost Dadaist. It's the original "sound and fury, signifying nothing", or at any rate signifying a lack of narrative. I managed to slog my way through, but I can't pretend I was particularly interested and I'm afraid I don't really see the point.
Caveat: I'm probably not the best audience for this kind of thing. I blow hot and cold with Sogo Ishii, although he's actual punk rather than the cybernetic version. It took me two viewings to get into The Adventures Of Electric Rod Boy, but that had a strong storyline underneath the off-putting visuals. This barely has a plot at all. Plotlike things occasionally happen and there are some characters, but it's obvious that Shozin Fukui is either uninterested in or incapable of telling a story cinematically. It's just imagery. It's 97 minutes of eyeball kicks.
That said, you could remake this to bring out the storyline and I could imagine it even being quite good. You wouldn't need to change much. You'd just have to explain who everyone was, how they were related to each other and why characters were being transformed on the fly (e.g. going from a kind-hearted girl to being a brutal evil sadist for no apparent reason). Looking it up on the internet, I see some fans even think they know what's going on. Some of those explanations are quite good. Unfortunately no two of them are the same.
I'll describe what happens as best I can. Nurses are having a sexy threesome with Haji Suzuki, who's had all his hair shaved off except for a tuft on top. Lucky Suzuki, you might be thinking. Not so. He's a sex slave who's been either grown, genetically engineered or brainwashed in some way by Rakumaro San'yutei, who sells sex slaves to horrible women. "I am a Cupid for the people of the world." Anyway, Suzuki's owner finds fault with the quality of his erections and kicks him out. She should have returned him to San'yutei, but she couldn't be bothered and it's not as if she has the slightest interest in Suzuki as a person anyway. It's like throwing out an ashtray. I think we also see her lobotomise him, although that's just my best guess and the film seems to imply later that it's San'yutei who's to thank for everything that's happened to Suzuki.
Meanwhile Onn-chan is a girl who lives in the city and hangs out in railway stations. The first thing that happens to her is a man asking her "how much", presumably under the impression that she's a prostitute. She finds and befriends Suzuki, even though he's non-sentient, and starts trying to teach him how to speak. Even saying his presumed name (Pinocchio) would be a start.
That's a decent beginning. Unfortunately it goes off-track after that, with both Suzuki and Onn-chan going through transformations. These aren't just metamorphoses, but involve mind-jumps so great that it's as if they've suddenly had a second personality unlocked. (Given that Onn-chan's change happens after she's possibly had sex with Suzuki, might he have infected her with something? Alternatively, had she always been a memory-wiped artificial creation as well?) There's extreme cruelty for no obvious reason. San'yutei becomes a megalomaniac and overacts, giving the most selfish reasons imaginable for wanting someone dead. People turn into mutant Mr Potato Heads. There's a bloke whose wife said they could adopt, which means he picks up a little girl in the street and runs away. This has nothing to do with anything else. It ends in violence, obviously, but interestingly after that San'yutei's two sidekicks appear to have what look like mechanical breakdowns.
This is not a film that's about its narrative. Meaning is whatever the audience can piece together, should they feel so inclined. It's about its visuals, so that's what I should be talking about.
Common themes of Japanese cyberpunk are apparently mutation, technology, dehumanization, repression and sexual deviance. Yup, got all those. Bingo. I think the metamorphoses (physical and mental) are what we're meant to be wondering about, but the most striking thing about the film for me were all those long unbroken shots of our main characters walking through real environments. It looks like guerilla filmmaking. The characters will take us on a journey through an underground station, or else will wander through a supermarket stuffing their faces with whatever's nearest to hand. These are obviously real and quite often full of people. It felt almost like a statement, showing us these Frankenstein people wandering among us, with no one noticing or caring.
The film has a James Cameron section, when it looks like Aliens or The Abyss. There's a sequence where Suzuki is stampeding through the city's streets with a bone-white face and a bloody mouth, which made him look like the Joker. There's torture, with manacles and chains.
...and that's it. That's everything I was able to take away from this film. You can try to impose a meaning if you like. I get the impression that Shozin Fukui had a storyline in mind, but that he didn't want to make it too easy for the audience (or else simply didn't know how movies work). This movie has what's been described as a semi-prequel called Rubber's Lover, made by Fukui five years later, which sounds a bit better and is also in black-and-white (yay!). Mind you, it's also about scientists torturing people to death in their experiments. I won't pretend I was particularly engrossed by this film, but in a way its frenzied lack of meaning and industrial Eraserhead aesthetic sort of works. The extremity of the content keeps one wondering about possible meanings, or at the very least admiring it as dehumanising visual poetry. If you watch this on drugs, I won't be held responsible for the consequences.