Monday, July 22, 2019
Nate Hood on Bullet Ballet (1998) Japan Cuts 2019
Bullet Ballet, then, sees the gradual self-destruction of a commercial director named Goda (Tsukamoto) after discovering his girlfriend unexpectedly killed herself with a gun. Grief-stricken, he embarks on a back alley odyssey through Tokyo’s gang-infested slums seeking a gun of his own with which to end his life. (American audiences unfamiliar with Japan’s strict gun laws might chortle at this premise, but the reality is that firearms, legal or illegal, are nearly impossible for Japanese civilians to own.) His search for a firearm leads him through a host of con artists and criminals until he finally falls into the orbit of a street gang embroiled in a vicious turf war. But by the time he gets his pistol, he’s firmly off the deep end, his psychological fetishism so advanced that he partakes in savage self-flagellating rituals, beating himself with his gun while burning his arms with burning irons to relieve mental stress. Yet in an unique twist inspired by a real life Japanese phenomenon involving “teamsters”—young people with respectable careers leading double lives as violent criminals during the night—Goda compartmentalizes his psychosis during the day, acting the perfect salaryman while visions of bloodshed haunt his thoughts, swelling and festering until they’re ready to pop.
Like Tsukamoto’s best films—Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and Tokyo Fist (1995)—Bullet Ballet is both cultural polemic and gruesome Scorsesian criminal Bildungsroman. But stripped of Scorsese’s Catholicism, all Bullet Ballet sees as it looks upon modern Japan is an abattoir of the soul, sticky with blood, caked with gunpowder. Only a lackluster script juggling too many characters and storylines at once keeps it from standing as one of Tsukamoto’s greatest.
Bullet Ballet plays Thursday as part of Japan Cuts celebration of the work and career of Shinya Tsukamoto. For more information and tickets go here