"Many directors these days favor using jerky hand-held cameras and quick cuts, but too often it comes out as an incoherent mess. Fortunately Tsukamoto realizes that movies, like music, have their own tempo and rhythm."
- Raging Gaijin
Bullet Ballet (1998)
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Producer: Igarashi Maison
Cast: Shinya Tsukamoto, Kirina Mano, Takahiro Murase, Tatsuya Nakamura, Kyoka Suzuki
Running Time: 87 min.
Plot: See review below.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
RAGING GAIJIN'S REVIEW: "Bullet Ballet" explodes onto the screen as writer/director/star Shinya Tsukamoto unleashes a new vision of Tokyo as urban hell: it's an industrial city of ultra-violent mayhem where honest citizens are at the mercy of nihilistic, thrill-crazed street gangs... with nary a cop in sight. One character, a gang leader, even says, "In a dream you can kill without being caught. Tokyo is one big dream." While I'm not quite sure just how accurate Tsukamoto's portrayal is, it certainly makes for a captivating film. "Bullet Ballet" draws inspiration from several sources, including "Eraserhead", "Taxi Driver", and even Tim Burton's "Batman" (as Tokyo seems more like Gotham City than the capital of Japan). However, it is a testament to Tsukamoto's talent that he is able to spin such disparate influences into a coherent film, one that is wholly original and of his own sensibilities.
"Bullet Ballet" focuses on an ordinary Japanese man named Goda. He works as a TV commercial director and maintains a nice apartment with his girlfriend of ten years. Coming home from work one day, Goda finds that his girlfriend has inexplicably shot herself in the head with a gun. Not only is he mortified at her sudden death but he is completely baffled as to how she got her hands on such a weapon. Japan has stricter gun laws than the US and, from this film, it seems like only the police really carry them. From here Goda becomes obsessed with getting to the bottom of both mysteries: why his girlfriend killed herself and just how a person can find a gun in Tokyo.
Surprisingly, Tsukamoto actually casts himself in the lead role. I didn't even realize this until after I viewed the film. I just assumed that Tsukamoto was a professional Japanese actor I hadn't seen before. He's honestly that good. What's so brilliant and unsettling about Tsukamoto's performance is that he looks and acts so mild-mannered and reserved, like a polite high school teacher you may have had, that it makes his transformation into a violent militant all the more frightening and real.
A particular scene comes to mind that characterizes the entire film: when Tsukamoto finally gets his hands on a gun, he goes to a dance club to confront some punks who mugged him. Inside the club is a vibrant underworld of pulsating lights and writhing young people. The camera seems to move to the beat of the industrial music that blares through the speakers and we're lost just like Tsukamoto as he tries to find his way through a sea of bodies. We then travel inside a tiny room where a man and a woman are having what may or may not be consensual sex; as the woman's face is awkwardly pressed against a glass window that overlooks the club, the man casually explains to her that there is no such thing as paradise.
This scene is indicative of "Bullet Ballet" as a whole. It's a bleak and wild journey down the rabbit hole that is modern Tokyo. The camera is constantly moving and the audience has no choice but to be thrust into the chaotic lives of these people, young men and women compelled by internal forces they don't understand. These characters are constantly flirting with death and chasing an impossible high they will never reach.
The grimy black and white photography
underscores the bleakness and depression inherent in the story. Many directors
these days favor using jerky hand-held cameras and quick cuts, but too
often it comes out as an incoherent mess. Fortunately Tsukamoto realizes
that movies, like music, have their own tempo and rhythm. His editing is
masterful, moving past the realm of film and music videos into something
else, more like a "live performance" as he describes in an interview on
Wea Corp's recently released DVD. "Bullet Ballet" admittedly loses some
of its focus and momentum during the last half-hour but overall it is a
tour de force of industrial filmmaking. If you can handle the dark subject
matter then definitely watch this film ASAP!
RAGING GAIJIN'S RATING: 8/10