BULLET BALLET (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1998)

Dazzling, gorgeous, pulsating, visionary, Shinya Tsukamoto’s black-and-white Bullet Ballet brilliantly fuses social criticism, ultra-violence, West Side Story’s street gangery, Tarkovskian science fiction, and film noir to wrestle a stunning life-affirmation from a compelling description of the nihilism of young Tokyoans who see violence, including murder and suicide, as the logical extension of what they perceive to be dead-ended lives. Wrongly, some commentators have said that the film itself is nihilistic. Tsukamoto, the cult favorite who directed Tetsuo, the Iron Man (1989) and A Snake of June (2002), wrote, directed, cinematographed and edited this fantastic film.
     Goda, beautifully played by Tsukamoto, seems to scurry through a dark, occasionally deadly dream. The point of departure is girlfriend Kiriko’s unexpected suicide with a gun the calibre of which only the police use. How did she get this gun? Was her death really a suicide? Goda himself investigates, descending into a gang underworld not only to discover the truth, which proves elusive, but to secure his own gun of the type that killed Kiriko so he can strike out at some portion of a dizzyingly immoral world. The mystery police gun suggests that Tsukamoto had in mind Akira Kurosawa’s swooning postwar noir Stray Dog (1949), thus laying Japan’s current moral chaos at the doorstep of the U.S. occupation that stressed capitalism at the expense of Japan’s religious foundation and family orientation.
     This is a dank film (another touch of Tarkovsky), with a leaky faucet and dripping corridors, and a rush, with flights across streets and bridges in pursuit of confrontation’s clarity. Handheld camera rules. The production design, as in a dream, makes inside Goda’s never-locked apartment one step away from some bizarre, leaky subterranean world that accesses the outdoors. People run while urgently using their cell phones.
     Futuristic; contemporary.

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