Gakuryu IshiiYoshiki ArizonoTadanobu AsanoMasatoshi Nagase
Electric Dragon 80.000 V
Medium: film
Year: 2001
Writer/director: Gakuryu Ishii
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Yoshiki Arizono, Tadanobu Asano, Masakatsu Funaki, Masatoshi Nagase
Format: 55 minutes
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 23 August 2013
It's one of my favourite Sogo Ishii films. It's on another planet with his usual punk aesthetic, but at the same time it's accessible enough to have entertainment value.
It doesn't feel like a movie, though. It feels like a director's showreel, or else an exploding comic book. It's not just that there's almost no dialogue, but more importantly there's no attempt to have characters interacting or having conversations. On the rare occasions when they speak, it'll be into a mobile phone. Besides, the film only has two characters (maybe a third, if you're generous) and they don't meet until the last ten minutes of the film.
There's a narrator, mind you (Masakatsu Funaki). He shouts bombastically and makes the screen explode with punk intertitles, like a Japanese hardcore version of the Adam West Batman TV series. "What saved him from ruin was the electric guitar!" "He conducts electricity! He talks to reptiles!" When our two antagonists eventually meet and (gasp) exchange words, we get the same on-screen text for them too. I suspect it might even be a deliberate comic book homage, albeit a whacked-out one.
Our heroes are:
(a) Tadanobu Asano as Dragon Eye Morrison. I'm not normally the biggest fan of Asano and his deadpan acting, but he's also capable of taking on extreme projects like Ichi the Killer. Here he does everything that's required. He's tall and dangerous-looking, he's cool and you can believe that he's this brain-damaged monster of suppressed violence. A bad thing happened to him as a child and "his dragon was awakened by the accident." By this, they mean the reptile part of the human brain. Now he regularly gets electrocuted, sometimes voluntarily, and he lives with lots of pet lizards. He's liable to start bashing people's faces in if he meets them face to face, but he can keep himself under control by playing the electric guitar.
In short, electricity is his equivalent of Popeye's spinach and guitar music is his self-administered Kryptonite. There's a scene where he's out in the street, holds up his hand and shouts for his guitar. It's thrown to him (FROM WHERE? BY WHO?) and then he starts playing it in public while everyone ignores him.
(b) Masatoshi Nagase as Thunderbolt Buddha. You probably haven't heard of Nagase, but he's done some highly esteemed films like Friorik Dor Frioriksson's Cold Fever, Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train and Sion Sono's Suicide Club. This role isn't stretching him as an actor, though. He's Buddha. We see Buddha going through Tokyo. We see Buddha standing on a rooftop holding a satellite aerial. (An old woman prays to him.) We then see that this is actually a Buddha mask that only covers the right hand side of his face, although that's still weird. Nagase has the same electricity superpowers as Asano and can also eavesdrop on any mobile phone conversation. Not sure what that achieves. We see him hunt down some guy might be a criminal, or might just as easily be some innocent guy who likes twirling his mobile and is about to get struck by Thunderbolt Buddha.
He also fights with himself. I swear there's a scene where the left and right hand sides of his body are struggling with each other. Buddha vs. non-Buddha. This is neither explained nor explored further, of course.
Even the narrator, Masakatsu Funaki, is an interesting choice. He's a professional wrestler who for a couple of years was ranked as the world's number one mixed martial artist. He's the co-founder of Pancrase, a mixed martial arts organisation that does real (i.e. not pre-determined) fights. Look him up on wikipedia and you'll see an epic fighting career, but also a few bits of acting work. Ishii had already used him in Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle. Here he's a great choice, delivering the narration like an over-the-top wrestling commentator, which Funaki obviously knows inside-out.
Anyway, back to the film. I likened it to a showreel, because it looks and sounds astonishing, but it's largely divorced from conventional ideas on how to portray a narrative. Conversation, pshaw. Character interaction, tish. Our introduction to Asano is an impressionistic explosion of images and sequences, interspersed with footage of snakes and iguanas. It works. Ishii's telling a story. However he's not doing so in any manner Hollywood would recognise.
Similarly the music is best described as visceral. It's by Ishii's industrial noise-punk outfit MACH-1.67 and they'd later play this film as a backdrop during their live shows.
I'm not always a fan of Ishii in general, but this works. It doesn't matter in the slightest that the duel we've been waiting for doesn't begin until the final ten minutes. That makes the film more interesting. Ishii's spending all the rest of the film setting up his characters. I love the fact that it's in black-and-white, which is perfect for Ishii's industrial aesthetic as well as being inherently more beautiful and striking than colour. (It's further removed from reality, so it draws your attention more to the shot composition and the shapes on screen.) Ishii's great at all that. Only a crazy man would deny his understanding of what can be done with moving pictures and sound.
It helps that it's short, of course, which means it's leaner and meaner. I'd actually recommend this one.