Electric Dragon: 80,000V (US - DVD R1)
Grab that electric guitar and let the volts surge through your body, says Gabe...
"A young boy gets jolted with electricity as he's climbing a tall cable pylon. As he gets older, he experiences intense fits of violence in which bolts of electricity burst from his fists. Elsewhere in Tokyo, there is an electronics wizard who also happens to be a vigilante with a taste for electric weapons. When the pair catch each other's attention, the result is a battle that will light up the city."
I took that plot synopsis directly from the DVD box. I couldn't have put it better myself, I suppose, nor did I really want to attempt it. The only thing I'd add to that little description is that our 'hero', the Electric Dragon, has a real passion for guitar feedback. You'll not see another superhero film more obsessed with electric guitar amp feedback than this one.
I was not at all familiar with the work of Japanese maverick Sogo Ishii until Burst City found its way into my mailbox a few months ago. Though I thoroughly understood the directors contributions to Japanese underground cinema, and his influences on Takashi Miike and Shinya Tsukamoto (two of my favourite filmmakers), I found myself luke-warm upon watching his first feature film. I really enjoyed the Japanese punk rock music, but found the narrative lacking, and dare I say, boring. I was somewhat shamed by these admissions, as I really wanted to love Japanese alternative cinema from the roots on up.
Ishii is most well known in semi-mainstream circles for his (as to date) biggest film, Gojo, staring lanky-tall, super-cool Japanese bad boy Tadanobu Asano. Asano is well known for his varying and always interesting resume, including Miike's incendiary Ichi: The Killer, Tsukamoto's Vital, and Takeshi Kitano's revamped Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman. Apparently, Electric Dragon 80,000V was filmed directly after the more epically scoped Gojo, because Gojo just wasn't that much fun to make. If only every maverick filmmaker had the same idea.
Though I understand that Ishii's style came first, I can't help but assume that the elder director has taken more than a few visual cues from protégé Tsukamoto, as Electric Dragon has the look and feel of the latter director's early cyber-punk masterpiece, Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Both films make little logical sense, and move their audience along at such a fast pace, one's liable to get whiplash. Ishii's film is more professional looking, and a little less abstract, but if you enjoyed one you'll most likely enjoy the other. Personally, I can't get enough cyber-punk.
Visually, the short is beautiful, though one has to wonder if it's possible to not film the dirty streets of Tokyo in a dull way, especially in black and white. There are some fun, lo-fi effects, and some intense hand drawn titles (provided by Asano, apparently). The strong visual sense, and the fact that these titles often appear as dialogue, make Electric Dragon the loudest silent film ever made. If one were to turn off their sound system while watching the film they wouldn't miss a lick of plot flow.
Electric Dragon is presented in a crisp, 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The black and white images are sharp without too much edge enhancement, and the lo-fi look is well represented without ever appearing too grainy. I did notice a few instances of rather large film artefacts, but in this wacky world of dueling electric-powered men, they really didn't seem too out of place. The transfer’s big problem is the fact that it is interlaced rather than progressive, which occasionally creates a combing effect.
On the disc's special features it is revealed that Electric Dragon was one of the first Japanese productions to use DTS sound systems rather than Dolby Digital. Because the film was mixed for DTS, the DTS track is actually noticeably better than the Dolby Digital one (which is still pretty darn good). Ishii's love of music shines here, and the track is very aggressive. Bass is especially aggressive, as heard during some of the tracks more reggae inspired songs.
It appears that most, if not all, of the production sound was recorded in post. There isn't much dialogue at all, as I mentioned in my feature review. I personally recognized quite a few sound effects from sound effect CDs I've used in the past. This adds an additional level of strangeness to the film, as the natural world sounds especially artificial.
This is the most ambitious release yet from fledgling company Discotek Media. The disc has a nice assortment of extras, all of which are black and white, and all of which were obviously produced with this DVD in mind.
The bulk of the extras are either slideshow based or interviews. I am, unfortunately not a fan of slideshows or talking heads, so the bulk of the extras were a bit of a choir for me. Fans of the film will be in electric heaven, I'm sure, and will probably be running out to get new tattoos by the end of the disc. There is quite a bit to be learned about the film here, and had I not already sat through three other DVD's special features that night, I may've been a little more enthralled. My favourite bits were premiere footage, where the director and announcers are drowned out almost entirely by Asano's screaming female fans.
Ah, but the features don't end with the DVD. Discotek has also included a CD soundtrack in the keep case. Now here's an inspired bit of extras. Why's Clint Eastwood the only one who ever seems to do this? Though the music is a little on the ambient side for everyday listening, I'm sure the CD will find its way into my player on more than one occasion. I wish that more cult flicks would do this.
This is the most fun you're likely to have watching an experimental art film. It's also one of the oddest original superhero flicks you're likely to see until Mike Allred's Madman series sees the light of the big screen. If you like the idea of a lo-fi, epic Anime inspired power battle, you owe it to yourself to give Electric Dragon: 80,000V a chance. At a run time of under an hour, it's not like you've got much to lose, and you get a free CD out of the deal.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 27th June 2006
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Extras: Title designs, Filming snapshots, About the Tattoo Illustrations, Synthesized Images, Press Conferences, Trailer, Insert Notes by Tom Mes, CD Soundtrack
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sogo Ishii
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Masakatsu Funaki, Masatoshi Nagase
Genre: Sci-Fi and Short
Length: 55 minutes
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