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A young boy gets jolted with electricity as he's climbing a tall cable pylon. As he gets older, he experiences intense fits of violence in which bolts of electricity burt from his fists. Elsewhere in Tokyo, there is an electronics wizard who also happens to be a vigilante with a taste for electric weapons. When the pair catch each other's attention, the result is a battle that will light up the city.Written by
Jean-Marc Rocher <email@example.com>
Cyberpunk is long since dead. The movement was founded in the early 80s, and represented rather an attitude, instead of content. Cyberpunk was raw, gritty, industrial and had an unhealthy technology fetish. The prime example of the whole cyberpunk movement in the film industry was the Japanese film Tetsuo (The Iron Man), which brought international fame to director Shinya Tsukamoto. Before that, director Sogo Ishii had already dabbled in the realms of cyberpunk, with varying success. His films never reached the heights of Tsukamoto's, and soon, it was just considered a phase he had to go through.
People lost interest, and soon only a weak remainder of the whole cyberpunk mentality was left. Some films are obviously still influenced by it, but the core has died since then, and only those small influences remain. Ten years later, Ishii was asked by his producer to take a trip back, and to make another punk film. Ishii happily took the challenge upon him, and set out to revive a way of thought that was buried a good ten years ago.
The story is an extremely simple one, like a comic book. Two electric mutants exist in Tokyo. The first one, Dragon Eye Morrison, a violent kid who got infused with electricity due to an overdose of electric shock therapy. He changed his ways, and captures amphibians for a living. The only way to discharge himself from the ever-rising electric currents in his body is to play the electric guitar. The second one, his adversary, is called Thunderbolt Buddha. Fried while climbing a pylon as a kid, his entire right side is cast in iron to conduct the electricity from his body. Obviously, Tokyo isn't big enough for the two of them, so one needs to go.
Sounds silly? Good, it should. Electric Dragon is mostly silent, and whatever dialogue there is, is often accompanied with violent calligraphic pieces. The film isn't all that concerned with plot holes, or with the plot itself it seems. It is meant to entertain, and that it does. I must admit that I even lost track of what was going on for the middle part of the film, not that it mattered to me, since the outcome of the film could be predicted after the first few minutes. For the lead roles, Ishii was able to get Tadanobu Asano and Masatoshi Nagase, two big names in Japanese cinema, who play their parts with extreme vigor and passion, and with total disregard to their fandom status. Asano was also the one who did the calligraphy for the film.
Not only that, but the score of the film was also made by Asano. Together with Ishii, he forms an industrial punk band called Mach 1.67, who provided most of the songs for Electric Dragon. The film has without a doubt the most ear-shattering soundtrack ever, with wailing guitars, distorted samples, distorted voices and a hellish tempo. It's more than just a part of the film, as it defines the film, and gels everything together. The sound design is excellent too. In many scenes some sizzling electricity samples are added, just to add another layer of density. It's probably not to everybody's taste, and personally, I've heard harder, denser, and grittier songs, but as a soundtrack, it works wonders.
Visually, Electric Dragon is shot in lush black & white, with an eye for detail. There is some added CGI, which blend in nicely, although it must be said it's greatly benefiting from the black & white and comic book setting. The only small remark I have is that the visuals can't measure up to the soundtrack on some occasions, and, in comparison, can even be considered rather plain. Not the shots themselves, which are great, but the editing is sometimes a bit tame, and could've used some extra attention. Luckily, the latter half of the film totally makes up for this, with zany effects and extremely messy camera work.
With the first half of the film dedicating itself to shape the characters, the latter half is all about the battle. There's even time for a little subplot with a mobile-wielding Yakuza. After some planning and setting up traps, they finally meet for the big showdown, both planning to crush their adversary. The ending really brings out the potential of the film, and leaves you behind, dazed and confused, wondering if it wasn't all just a wild dream. Not that you have much time for catching your breath, as the end credits are set to the same deafening soundtrack the rest of the film features.
It's easy to see that Electric Dragon only focused on one thing. Fun. Shot in only a week, with a very low budget, it's an all-out attack on the senses. Going with that, it blends in a great comic book story that's as insane as the rest of the film. Ishii handles everything with a good dose of humor, illustrated by the character names, dialogues and the sound effects of munching lizards. The characters gave their all, and the film ends with a bang. The only thing that prevents this from becoming an ultimate masterpiece, is some uninspiring editing in the middle, and the fact that Tetsuo did everything just a tad bit better. Note that this isn't a film that will be appreciated by most people. You need a healthy dose of relativation, and should be interested in cinema that pushes the boundaries of audiovisual blending. I can only recommend this film though, as it is a fine continuation of the cyberpunk spirit, true to its original spirit.
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