ELECTRIC DRAGON 80.000 V (2001)

Directed by: ,
Written by:
Starring: ,

Available Now from Third Window on Blu-ray

Tired of superhero movies? Well strap yourself in for a jolt of energy from Gakuryu ‘Sogo’ Ishii, director of such cult classics as Crazy Thunder Road. At just over fifty-minutes long this could be the fresh supply you’ve been looking for; an exaggerated ride full of hissing reptiles and buzzing live wires. Not every movie out there can be so brief of course, but it’s refreshing to watch something that isn’t a bladder bursting two and a half hours these days. Does it pack this running time with eye-searing images the likes of which would make Tsukamoto turn green with envy? It really depends on what you’re looking for in a tale which is brimming with stylish visuals but is light on anti-authority metaphor.

It’s clear that the film is striving for neither depth nor realism in an opening montage of art depicting dragons throughout the ages. Myths and legends are thrown onto the screen as a narrator suggests that dragons actually exist ‘in the human heart’. Which is a way of suggesting that kids climbing electrical pylons is somehow more brave than foolish. Clearly they never had the equivalent of British safety films in 1970s Japan. Of course this is still identifiable as the hero’s origin story even if the presentation is pretty non-standard. As a result his naïve actions as a boy are simply part of a cycle of violence and shock therapy which follows him through school, institutions, and even a sporting career.

Dragon Eye Morrison (Tadanobu Asano) grows up to be ‘the man’ as his penchant for fist fights is replaced by an obsession with his electric guitar. It’s a story told with a heightened reality and a dozen or more references to other films. Foley and ADR is used to lend the whole thing unnatural sounds as the narrative blasts through nods to everything from Jake LaMotta to Marty McFly. His electrical powers suggest Frankenstein’s laboratory and there are hints of Bruce Lee during some of the action scenes; it’s pop culture overload as the voltage metres flash and the circuits burn. However, though it’s all painted in a Tetsuo-esque layer of black and white the overall result retains a distinct personality of its own.

Perhaps it’s because Morrison isn’t a hero in the usual sense. In fact he spends half the story rummaging through back-alleys and in bushes looking for a lost iguana. Beyond rocking out and charging himself up with home-made equipment his main occupation is ‘reptile investigator’, suggesting that after all the beatings he’s dished out the music brought him peace and now he’s happy just to look for missing pets. Which is charming enough but hardly exciting; despite this being a main part of the plot his time spent in a dank sewer isn’t great for the pacing. Still, while the narrative isn’t always clear the texture of the film is well defined as the heat of the city shimmers and crackles.

Things start to reach a boiling point when Morrison’s adversary Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase) appears on the scene. At first he seems like another helpful figure who works with electrical appliances and goes after gangsters in his spare time. But something is off about the guy and it’s not just because half his face is covered by a silver mask. He’s always surrounded by guns and gadgets; using them to track and then bring down his targets. It’s clear that his interest in Morrison isn’t friendly as things take a dark turn for both the music and the reptiles. Perhaps it’s saying something about human nature as one is slick and polished but hides a sinister side, while one is scruffy and relaxed, using his old boxing gloves around the house and not in the ring.

Still, the clash between Electric Dragon and the new challenger Thunderbolt Buddha is inevitable when the latter reveals he wanted to make the former angry just to see what will happen. The hyper real punches and forking electricity produce a comic-book style affair where the answer to frustration is rocking out and doing good deeds. It’s not deep but it’s enough for a film this short with only two real characters. One is the coolest dude around who us just happy to have found a purpose, while the other is half-man half-statue and leans into technology and cruelty to feel satisfaction. Of course as things unravel Morrison is going to lose his cool and find himself heading for and overload.

It’s a clichéd premise as eighty thousand volts has to defeat twenty million, but the editing and camera work is always engaging. Even beyond the action a lot of the story is told through fast cuts and close-ups, be it tattoo needles or leather fabrics. Flashing text announces the battle like a video-game or a sports event, while characters flip and glide around, sometimes without moving like a Spike Lee joint. It’s a strange and often funny concoction that exists in some ways just to depict this showdown, but manages to cram in lots of different techniques and images along the way. The end result is hardly a damning look at the way technology interferes with our daily lives, but it’s still an essential thrill ride; thin but lightning fast.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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About Mocata 149 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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