Burst City (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers checks out the godfather of Japanese punk rock cinema...
What is Burst City? Is it a concert film? Is it a post-apocalyptic thriller? Is it a tongue-in-cheek indictment of the repressed nature of Japanese society? Well I certainly don't know, and I'm not sure Burst City knows either. The 'plot' revolves around duelling motorcycle gangs in a vaguely post-apocalyptic Japan, who go to punk rock shows and fight each other. I suppose you'd call the plot The Warriors meets Mad Max meets Repo Man meets The Filth and the Fury meets Tesuo: The Iron Man. The film lacks focus, which in turn lead me as a viewer to lack focus. To tell you the truth, I've already forgotten most of the film.
Watching Burst City was kind of like watching Citizen Kane or Blue Velvet for me. I went into it understanding its importance to modern film (thanks to some buffo liner notes by Tom Mes), and I respected what it stood for, but actually more enjoyed watching the films that came out of its wake. The film was obviously greatly improvised, and sometimes it works. The film was also an obvious inspiration to Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto (I didn't need liner notes to see that one), in all its chaos and vulgarity. The film's above title tag line is accurate, this film is 100% punk, but that's not always a good thing.
I'd say the biggest oppressor to my enjoyment was the nearly two hour run time. Experimental film can grate quickly, and some of the best films in the 'genre' are palatable because they are brief. Sitting through one hour of Tesuo: the Iron Man or Begotten was plenty for me. Burst City felt long all around.
I didn't totally lose interest in the film thanks to some great and contagiously energetic musical performances. '80s punk rock was fabulous, and I'm not all that familiar with the Japanese bands of the era. They basically sound like their American and British counterparts, but tend to have a bit more raw talent that they vainly try to hide, if this feature is anything to go on. I think Alex Cox's Repo Man did a better job of capturing the whole '80s punk rock experience in a vaguely Sci-Fi plotline thing much better as a whole, but after seeing this film I'm craving more concert footage (as it stands there's only one 'punk' show in Repo Man and one scene of The Circle Jerks playing pseudo folk-pop).
Like Joan Collins, Burst City is old and cheap, and this DVD isn't a prime example of the apex of the technology. The anamorphically enhanced image is often washed out, and suffers from a whole bunch of digital noise. However, I'm pretty sure that this is the best fledgling disc pressers Discotek Media could do, and it does seem appropriate. I could've done with deeper blacks, as in this case artefacts and grain don't really bother me. It really is the sharpness and contrast that are the disc's biggest drawbacks.
The audio track follows the video transfer in that it's probably as good as it gets. Though marked Dolby Surround, the track might as well be Mono due to lack of stereo effects. For the most part this doesn't hurt the very analogue film, but the music, which may be the most important element, could really do with some sprucing. Everything tends to be muddled into a wall of sound. Even punk rock deserves a little fidelity.
Our friend Tom Mes, Japanese cinema expert extraordinaire, only makes an appearance on in the liner notes, which in their own little way tell you everything you need to know about the film. Those curious may want to read them before pushing play. It's too bad that Discotek Media couldn't get Mes to do one of his patented mile-a-minute commentaries, but alas only Artsmagic seems to get that kind of thing outta the man.
The film has a lot of history behind it, and more is covered in a text essay found on the disc. I'm not a big fan of reading my DVD special features, but these facts and figures really do make me want to like the film more than I did. I almost feel as if I'm not cool enough for legendary director Sogo Ishii. The text essay is followed by a series of black and white stills and a trailer for both Burst City and Ishii's later short film, Electric Dragon: 80000 Volts, which I will also be reviewing in the near future.
Burst City is a chunk of Japanese cinema history, though unfortunately it isn't really that great of a movie. Anyone who loves the work of Japanese mavericks Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto will probably want to give this disc a whirl for a glimpse of where these filmmakers were coming from. If nothing else, this disc has replay value in its concert moments, but then I'm a sucker for '80s punk. Shame me for not digging the flick more if you will, cineaste elite.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 27th June 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Surround 2.0 Japanese
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Background on Burst City, B&W Still Gallery, Trailer, Insert with Notes by Tom Mes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sogo Ishii
Cast: Michirou Endo, Shigeru Izumiya, Takanori Jinnai, Kou Machida, Shigeru Muroi
Genre: Action and Musical
Length: 115 minutes
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