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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An emotional sucker-punch from the director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man., 6 Jan 2008
This review is from: Bullet Ballet [DVD] (DVD)
Bullet Ballet (1998) is one of Shinya Tsukamoto's more personal and enigmatic films, attempting, as it does, to merge elements of narrative and character alongside his usual preoccupations with visual metaphor and cinematic experimentation. The manner in which these two very distinctive styles come together isn't always as seamless as many of the director's other films, with the juxtaposition of these two worlds creating a plotline and a sense of character motivation that is often quite hard to follow, no doubt enlivening and alienating the majority of its viewers in equal measures.

Arriving home from work one night, TV commercials director Goda (played by Tsukamoto himself) is shocked to discover that his long-term partner Kiriko (Kyoka Suzuki) has committed suicide. Unable to cope with this tragic turn of events, Goda becomes obsessed with the idea of owning a Chief Special - the same handgun used by Kiriko in her own death. However, after wandering the streets of Tokyo looking for an arms dealer, he stumbles into a dark alleyway where he meets Chisato (Kirina Mano), a waif-like street punk who Goda saved from the path of an oncoming train during a previous encounter. Concerned for her well-being, he tries to give her a lecture but instead, is beaten and robbed by members of Chisato's gang - here led by the charismatic Goto (Murase Takahiro). After this encounter, Goda's pistol obsession becomes inexplicably intertwined with this gang of street punks, until events start to spiral desperately out of control for all involved.

Like many of Tsukamoto's other films, in particular the preceding Tokyo Fist (1995) and his later masterworks A Snake of June (2002) and Vital (2004), the film focuses on the idea of identity loss - as we are introduced to a character who, through a series of unfortunate events partially described above, can no longer understand his place in the world and attempts to reclaim his identity through primal violence. With this in mind, some have compared the film to Scorsese's masterpiece Taxi Driver (1976); however, the comparison is really quite superficial. Bullet Ballet lacks the sense of spiralling catharsis so central to Taxi Driver's gun-toting loner Travis Bickle, instead capturing the aimless need for something - anything - to give the protagonist's life a sense of purpose.

The gun becomes a god-like symbol of power for Goda; something that can command and destroy without even being used. However, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that it is not the gun that has re-invigorated Goda's design for life, but the extraordinary, life-threatening scenarios he has witnessed in the pursuit of the weapon in question. Like Tsuda from Tokyo Fist or Rinko from A Snake of June, Goda, Chisato and Goto must enter into a series of self-inflicted psychological tests that will in effect shock them out of their sense of numbed, social paralysis - almost destroying them before they can truly feel whole. These are classic Tsukamoto ideas, prevalent in even his first acknowledged feature film, Tetsuo: The Iron Man. However, whereas that film and his subsequent projects painted in broad-strokes; combining the themes and ideas with heavy visual symbolism and bold experimentation, Bullet Ballet is much more conventional in scope. At times it was reminiscent of David Cronenberg at his most clinical and detached; recalling films such as Dead Ringers (1988) or his controversial adaptation of Crash (1997), which again, has a similar thread about discovering your true self and your lust for life by putting it (literally) on the line.

Tsukamoto captures the film in noirish black and white; creating a world literally without colour that perfectly underpins the feckless "do or die, life or death" attitude expressed by Goto's gang of misguided young tearaways. Occasionally the director indulges in a moment of intense visual expression - recalling his more typical work with the use of rapidly edited montages, skewed camera perspectives and that pounding industrial soundtrack - but for the most part, the approach is fairly restrained; recalling his more recent film Vital and the earlier, more subdued moments of A Snake of June.

As I said before, the film doesn't flow as seamlessly as I would have expected; often confounding viewers by going in directions that you wouldn't normally expect, which can be quite jarring and disconcerting for those of us trying to pick apart the motivation of the characters. As a result the film doesn't quite have the same impact of Tokyo Fist or A Snake of June, seeming somewhat formless (which is a real failing given the film's reliance on narrative over visual spectacle). That said; it's in no way a "bad film", but rather, one that will test the patience of many viewers expecting something as frantic and ballistic as the more iconic Tetsuo films, offering instead a story that is emotionally rich, thematically enigmatic, but at times, occasionally quite thin. If you're already a fan of Tsukamoto's work then I would say stick with it regardless. The film offers a number of standout set-pieces, from the initial scenes of Goda trying (and often failing in true deadpan fashion) to buy the weapon, to a series of fairly frantic action sequences that almost recall the Tsukamoto that many will be more familiar with.

Bullet Ballet was a bold departure for Tsukamoto; giving us more plot and deeper characters, as well as one of his most understated and sympathetic performances in the lead role (Tsukamoto, not only a great film director, editor and cinematographer, but also a fairly underrated actor as well). It doesn't quite come together as seamlessly as it should, leaving many loose threads and a myriad of unanswered questions, but also offers some truly intense and truly astounding individual sequences. A flawed minor-masterpiece then, from one of contemporary cinema's true originals.

This DVD features a great overall picture and sound quality, trailers, stills gallery, a 30-minute in-depth interview with writer/director Shinya Tsukamoto, and finally, a feature-length audio commentary with film critic, Tom Mes.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Dec 2010 19:32:14 GMT
crazygun says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jun 2012 21:30:25 BDT
No-one forced you to carry on reading. Sometimes more is beneficial. (I haven't seen this film but found 'A Snake of June' amazing)
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