Tag Archives: revenge

Tokyo Fist

Tokyo Fist 1
Tokyo Fist

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 25 November 2013

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Writers: Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Hisashi Saito

Cast: Kaori Fujii, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Kôji Tsukamoto

Japan 1995

87 mins

UK Asian film distributor Third Window Films continue with their releasing of titles by Japanese filmmaker Shin’ya Tsukamoto. His 1995 cult classic, Tokyo Fist, has been digitally restored from the film’s original negative, supervised and approved by the man himself.

Tokyo Fist represents the turning point from the macabre genre cinema that launched Tsukamoto’s career to films that are invariably described as being more ‘grounded’ and ‘mature’, a traditionally shaky prospect for many directors in this situation. However, the belligerent confidence of Tsukamoto’s vision for Tokyo Fist is such that not only is the evolution a success but that the film arguably remains his most viscerally compelling after nearly 20 years.

Tsukamoto plays Tsuda, a chronically fatigued insurance salesman who trundles around Tokyo’s bustling, high-rise metropolis in a state of near-catatonia, reciting his product pitches to equally disinterested customers. By chance he bumps into Kojima (Kôji Tsukamoto – Shin’ya’s real-life younger brother), an old school friend who is now a semi-professional boxer. Kojima continues to insinuate himself in Tsuda’s home life and makes advances towards his fiancée Hizuru (Kaori Fujii). Aggravated by Tsuda’s increasing jealously and intrigued by Kojima’s physicality, Hizuru packs her bags, prompting Tsuda to start his own boxing training regime so that he can reassert his dominance.

Despite its shift away from genre, Tokyo Fist still adheres to the basic template of Tsukamoto’s earlier Tetsuo films. A weak salaryman loses his partner due to a third party complicating their precarious lifestyle, and both the salaryman and the antagonist undergo a process of transformation, with their own changes encouraging further changes in the other. Tsuda begins this process as a soft and innocuous man but gets increasingly more violent and focused; Kojima, on the other hand, starts as the aggressor but slowly slips into undisciplined cowardice. Once again, there is a corporeal aspect to these metamorphoses, but rather than metal erupting from the flesh, pulpy, larger-than-life bruises begin to cover the boxers’ faces as they square off against each other, or, in Tsuda’s case, the city itself. In one scene, he repeatedly slams his head into a concrete motorway support pillar in delirious submission. The results border on the comical (then again, the ridiculous macabre of Tetsuo is not without humour either), but these hyperbolic wounds strongly suggest the idea of violence as mutation, contorting the countenance of each character beyond recognition as rage takes hold. Tsukamoto would continue to ruminate on issues of rage and revenge in Bullet Ballet (1998), but in far starker and more stripped down manner.

Let’s not forget Fujii’s role in all this as the woman who plays the two men against each other. She embarks on her own process of transformation by modifying her body with tattoos, piercings and steel bars as an extension of her rebellion. It’s an interesting continuation of Tsukamoto’s metal fetishist character from Tetsuo, although the film introduces many nuances to the director’s canon, accomplishing an invigorating fusion of both old and new sensibilities.

What is perhaps most commendable about Tokyo Fist is that it reveals Tsukamoto’s growing knack for finding subtlety and emotional texture, all while retaining – or rather, revising – his trademark corybantic camerawork, quick pacing and impressionistic narrative structuring. The film expertly captures that sense of male jealousy and emasculated frustration that comes when losing to a romantic rival. This is partly due to the performances by Tsukamoto, proving him to be a legitimately decent (and quite underrated) screen presence, and his brother, Koji, a non-actor chosen for his real-life boxing experience (although the contribution of story co-creator Hisashi Saito should not be underestimated).

It is the personal nature of the production that allows the film to be as passionate and energetic as it is, coupled with Tsukamoto’s ability to stitch together various visual fragments that act as complementary, almost kaleidoscopic leitmotifs: the regular training montages; brief shots of both Tsuda and Kojima staring into the mirror, only for the proverbial abyss to stare back at them just as hard; and Tsuda’s need to consume a post-training energy drink from a vending machine, a crutch he requires less and less as his strength builds. The anger and intensity are both palpable and, later on, pummelling. Tokyo Fist is a viewing experience that will leave you exhausted, but in the best possible way.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s Bullet Ballet and Tetsuo are also available on DVD + Blu-ray (R2/b) from Third Window Films.

Mark Player

Watch the trailer:

Bullet Ballet

Bullet Ballet 2
Bullet Ballet

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 30 December 2013

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Cast: Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Kirina Mano, Takahiro Murase, Tatsuya Nakamura

Japan 1998

87 mins

Although it has the kind of title that puts you in mind of the gunplay heroics of John Woo and Chow Yun-fat, Bullet Ballet (1998) is the latest Shin’ya Tsukamoto release from UK Asian film distributor Third Window Films, complete with a new HD transfer supervised by the cult Japanese director himself.

Goda (Tsukamoto) is a thirty-something TV ad director who returns to his Tokyo apartment one evening to find that his fiancée has committed suicide for no discernible reason. But rather than dwelling exclusively on the enigma of ‘why’, Goda’s mournful obsession soon turns to the practicality of ‘how’ and he tries to acquire the same model handgun – a .38 ‘Chief’s Special’ – that his fiancée used to end her life. However, due to Japan’s strict gun control laws, Goda settles with trying to build his own and becomes embroiled with the Tokyo underbelly, where anarchic young thugs run wild. He homes in on a particular group who have mugged and humiliated him in the past. His obsession with destruction turns into a desire for revenge.

Bullet Ballet returns to the punchy monochrome look that helped make Tsukamoto’s first Tetsuo (1989) film feel like a nightmarish fever-dream caught on celluloid. The style embellishes the béton brut of Tokyo’s alleyways, underpasses and stoic apartment blocks, but also feels apropos to Goda’s stark mindset as he embarks on his odyssey of rage and self-destruction. These are typical themes in Tsukamoto’s filmmaking, where the protagonists – often emotionally deadened white-collar slaves – reacquaint themselves with their primal humanity, previously thought to have been lost to the crushing modernity of the sprawling metropolis. As in Tokyo Fist (1995), anger is the key to reconnection. However, Bullet Ballet sheds the last remnants of the fantasy violence that characterised Tsukamoto’s early work and still lingered in Tokyo Fist, leaving us with a film that is forged from grain, grit and lack of compromise.

What also sets Bullet Ballet apart from Tsukamoto’s other films is that his typical viewpoint of the repressed salaryman shares the stage with characters from delinquent youth culture, in particular the reckless Chisato (Kirina Mano), a tough young woman with a death wish, and gang leader Goto (Takahiro Murase), whose newly acquired day job causes the rest of the gang to question his street cred. The disenfranchised, no-future attitude of these petty criminals feels not only like a tipping of the hat to the early punk films of Sogo Ishii (a big influence on Tsukamoto), but also taps into the general pessimism of Japan’s out-of-shape economy during the 1990s. Tsukamoto has always been aware of his surroundings, but this seems to be the first time that he is drawing directly from the zeitgeist. Like New York City in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), Tokyo is rotting away from the inside and is quickly becoming a playground for anarchy and mayhem. ‘In dreams you can kill people and never get caught. Tokyo is one big dream,’ says the drug-dealing patriarch Idei (Tatsuya Nakamura) to Goto, who has been coerced into shooting a stranger of his choosing in order to regain his honour.

Bullet Ballet is an exhilarating descent into this decaying urban labyrinth and the result is as brilliantly intense as you would expect from a Tsukamoto film. He frames his generational conflict within a fluid, jangly editing structure, reminiscent of the nouvelle vague, that cuts to the quick. But although the film nihilistically depicts a society seemingly on the brink of collapse, and boasts the tough and brutish aesthetic palette of a multi-storey car park, there is a delicate beauty waiting to be found amidst the ugliness. It is especially true in the film’s strangely edifying closing moments, where escape and embrace become an ethereal blur.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tokyo Fist and Tetsuo are also available on DVD + Blu-ray (R2/b) from Third Window Films.

Mark Player

Watch the trailer:



Format: Cinema

Release date: 18 February 2011

Venues: ICA, Ritzy (London) and key cities

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Testuya Nakashima

Writer: Testuya Nakashima

Based on the novel by: Kanae Minato

Original title: Kokuhaku

Cast: Takako Matsu, Yoshino Kimura, Masaki Okada

Japan 2010

106 mins

Asian cinema does revenge well, and already boasts many excellent films on that theme, from Shunya Ito’s Female Convict Scorpion series to Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy. Tetsuya Nakashima has added one more to the list with Confessions, which equals Park’s Oldboy in the cruelty of the punishment and the sophistication of the set-up. Adapted from Kanae Minato’s best-selling novel, Confessions tells the story of teacher Yuko Moriguchi’s diabolical revenge against the two 13-year-old boys she accuses of murdering her little girl.

In a remarkable opening sequence, the soft-spoken Yuko quietly tells her rowdy class that she will leave at the end of term. She then calmly proceeds to tell them about the murder of her daughter, how she discovered that the killers were two boys from her class, and how she has already taken revenge on them. Each of her disclosures is made all the more shocking by her even tone of voice, her astonishing words finally forcing the unruly students to pay attention to her. This mesmerising sequence lasts for 30 minutes and seemingly reveals the whole plot of the film. But Yuko’s ‘confession’ is followed by a series of further confessions from other characters, the film intercutting their points of view, each revealing some new twist until we reach the culmination of the revenge story.

Read the interview with Tetsuya Nakashima.

Brilliantly, intricately edited, often using the juxtaposition of different viewpoints and moments in time to create complex meanings, the film offers a sombre view of an immoral youth. Admittedly, there is something somewhat reactionary in the broad portrayal of young people as hopelessly self-centred, callous and insensitive, but the pessimism includes the adult characters too. There is no possibility of redemption for anyone, and social relationships are just a web of cruelty in which everyone is guilty.

Confessions picks up on the extreme sentimentality and extreme cruelty that exists in Japanese cinema, and combines them, for instance, when the bullying of one of the accused boys is turned into a fun-looking, brightly-coloured, point-scoring game on the students’ phones. Scenes of the boy’s harassment are set against images of happy young girls leaving school amid beautiful cherry blossoms and even a quirky musical number. Teenage sentimentality is specifically ridiculed: ‘Pop… the sound of something important disappearing forever’; this catchphrase, repeated with a fair amount of self-pity by one of the boys throughout the film, will be thrown back at him later by Yuko, with a devastating new meaning.

Watch the trailer.

Dominated by blue-ish tones and making frequent use of fish-eye shots and distancing low and high angles, Confessions feels like a disturbing dream. Characters recount terrible misdeeds in strangely detached voices, as if in a daze, and a number of scenes are filmed at a slowed down pace. The oneiric effect is emphasised by the music, which combines an emotive Radiohead ballad with atmospheric, gloomy tracks from The xx and Japanese noise band Boris, as well as ironic pop songs (‘That’s the Way I Like It’) and gentle, melancholy pieces.

In Confessions, Nakashima has toned down the stylistic exuberance that marked his Kamikaze Girls (2004) and Memories of Matsuko (2006). Those two films shared an almost insanely upbeat quality and a strong visual style based on an orgiastic use of bright colours. But where Kamikaze Girls was a light, pink cream puff of a film, there was a very bleak tale hidden in Memories of Matsuko‘s candy wrapper. In Confessions, there is no sweetness to balance the darkness, and it is Nakashima’s most accomplished film to date.

Listen to the Lucky Cat podcast Series 5 Episode 5, in which Virginie Sélavy was the guest of presenter Zo&#235 Baxter to discuss Confessions. First broadcast on Resonance FM, 104.4, on Saturday 12 February 2011. Lucky Cat is a weekly show that focuses on East Asian culture.

Virginie Sélavy