I don’t know what was in the water, because the frenzy of 1979’s Mad Max inspired imitators all over the world, from the Italian westerns with cars to the Filipino tricycle driving blasts of strangeness and, yes, this Japanese punk rock epic. This is one of the most frenetic and just plain loud movies I’ve ever seen, which made me fall in love with it right from the very first frame.
Whether its characters are rocking the stage, partying, fighting, getting wasted, hunting down a killer or battling any authority figure they can find, this is a film of noise, fury and high energy. It unites bikers, workers and punk as one to fight the Yakuza, which leads to the Battle Police shutting everything down.
Burst City has a soundtrack from all three of the major punk cities in Japan. The Stalin was from Tokyo, Machizo Machida was from Kansai, and The Roosters and the Rockers were from Kyushu. The cast and crew bonded by living on the post-apocalyptic set when they weren’t shooting, like some end of the world squatters.
Shot on filthy 16 mm film, this movie stops and starts, changes speeds and amplifies the strangeness throughout. Director Gakuryū Ishii is often cited as being a major influence on Japan’s cyberpunk culture with movies like Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle and Electric Dragon 80.000 V, as well as music videos for The Roosters and Einstürzende Neubauten.
If you look closely, you can spot Japanese pro wrestling heel king Umanosuke Ueda, a bleach blonde heel who also shows up on Takeshi’s Castle. He’s one of the yakuza henchmen. If you’re a fan of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Evil, you are watching the modern version of his character, which also inspired Mr. Gannosuke, Tatsutoshi Goto and Toru Yano.
This is 115 minutes of punk bands screaming*, motorcycles, fistfights, cops getting shotgun blasted and astounding fashion choices. It’s non-stop imagery and sound. In my dreams of punk rock 1982 Tokyo, I imagine that everyone dressed and acted exactly like this film, racing dekotora trucks and chugging sake right out of the microwavable containers when they aren’t plugging holes in their amps so they get even more distortion out of them.
The Arrow Video re-release of this has a 1080p hi-def presentation, which is kind of awesome because this is one of the grainiest movies I’ve ever seen. It also has new audio commentary by Japanese film expert Tom Mes, a 56-minute interview with the director and a 27-minute discussion of the film with filmmaker Yoshiharu Tezuka on jishu eiga (self-made movies).
This is one weird trip that you should totally take. You can get this from Arrow Video. Grab a helmet or something to restrain yourself, because this movie feels like it could give you whiplash.
*Becca: “Is this movie just an hour of Japanese people screaming?”