Director: Gakuryu Ishii – under the name Sogo Ishii
Notable Cast: Michiro Endo, Kansai Eto, Shigeru Izumiya, Akaji Maro, Takanori Jinnai
After the release of the Shinya Tsukamoto set by Arrow Video earlier this year, the announcement of the upcoming Blu Ray release of the cult and underground Burst City was compelling. It’s a film I’ve heard referred to a handful of times as one of the most punk pieces of cinema to exist not to mention an early cornerstone of cyberpunk. Although this statement wholly rings true, the punk attitude of the film is also the reason why it’s a film that will only have its established cult audience and not reach individuals beyond that. It’s abrasive, in all the ways one might expect, but its inconsistency of tone and meandering narrative hardly work to drive the more compelling aspects. The energy can be infectious and the audacity of its rebel spirit to dutifully expressed in the style, but Burst City is not nearly the iconic underground work it’s often labeled as in cinema.
With its grainy textures, violent elements, and sheer auditory aggression, one could easily call Burst City a ‘raw and unfiltered’ film. Stylistically, the film is more akin to a two-hour series of music videos in its raucous execution. While the film is presented in high definition, although not any kind of 2K or 4K restoration from what I can tell, the film is never meant to be clean and clear. It’s frayed and rough, visually speaking, with director Sogo Ishii utilizing handheld camerawork, quick cuts, and intense closeups to create the ‘in-your-face’ aesthetic of its punk mentality. Partnering that with its many, many punk music concerts intercut into the plot, Burst City is an aggressive assault on the audience’s senses that lives up to the nature of its concept. The choices of this style are broad and bold and for that, it lives up to its reputation.
Although the film certainly creates the aesthetic needed, the basis of its plot which invokes the rebellious feelings of taking down authority and social structure, Burst City desperately needs more structure. The plot attempts to create a dystopian ‘near future’ version of Tokyo where punks and yakuza end up at opposite ends of the spectrum, but there is never any real sense of purpose to the narrative. Perhaps that is the purpose, to feel as wild and free as the various characters in the punk bands, but in terms of a driven film, it meanders far too much and its elements of storytelling become horrifically muddled. Quite frankly, for a film that spends two hours selling its estranged, dystopian nightmare of Mad Max inspiration, it really ends up saying very little. The lacking artistry underneath its style feels both intentional and oddly flawed.
If one is willing to buy into the pure punk attitude of Burst City, it’s a fantastic piece of cult history worthy of a watch. My expectations may have been a bit high for the film and I’m open to the potential of growing to like it more with repeat viewings. Still, the mosh pit that represents its storytelling approach to characters and plot undercut a film that could have used its aesthetic to hammer home its themes. Burst City is a fun one-time watch, but it ultimately feels like a film more interested in capturing the feeling of a punk concert than delivering a fleshed-out film.
ARROW VIDEO FEATURES:
- High Definition Blu-rayTM (1080p) presentation
- Original lossless mono Japanese soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles
- Brand new audio commentary by Japanese film expert Tom Mes
- The Punk Spirit of ’82: Sōgo Ishii on Burst City, an exclusive new 56-minute interview with the director
- Bursting Out, an exclusive 27-minute interview with the academic and independent filmmaker Yoshiharu Tezuka on jishu eiga and the making of Burst City
- Original Trailer
- Image Gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon