Creating narratives like Crazy Thunder Road (1980) and Burst City (1982) made Gakuryū Ishii, then still called Sogo Ishii, an instant favourite among revel and punk cineastes in Japan.
Yet, his popularity came with a problematic price: no Japanese film company wanted to fund his new cinematic endeavours. Yet, in 1994, ten years after Crazy Family (1984), he got another chance at directing with Angel Dust (1994). These were followed by August in the Water (1995) and Labyrinth of Dreams (1997). Yet, Gojoe (2000) and Electric Dragon 80.000 V. (2001), both financial flops, causes Ishii to take another ten year break.
As a child, Dragon Eye Morrison (Tadanobu Asano) was electrocuted while hanging on a electric pole. While he survived the electric current, it damaged the part in the brain that controls emotions and his drive. In an attempt to rewire his brain, he is subjected to electroconvulsive therapy after any kind of violence. Yet, the psychiatric doctors do not realize that the electricity they administer is absorbed by his brain and body – enabling him to conduct electricity.
One day, our highly electric Dragon Eye Morrison, who now works as reptile investigator, realizes he is targeted by Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase), a man with similar powers as his. A showdown ensues.
Electric Dragon 80000V can best be described as an experimental visual action experience. Ishii, by channelling his punk roots of his early work as well as his love of industrial punk-noise music, creates a narratively simple but visually anarchistic product.
There is no need to seek for any thematic depth in this quite short film – there isn’t any. Rather, the spectator is asked to breathe in the monochromic contrasts and textures of the visuals and let the musical accompaniment seep into his/her body. It is a narrative that functions as an experience.
Yet, Ishii’s demand to simply experience the narrative has its limits. If the spectator is unable to appreciate the kinetic energy of the composition or dislikes the pieces of industrial punk-noise, the spectator is rendered unable to invest into the visual fabric of the narrative and the tactile monochrome atmosphere.
Ishii’s composition is full of strong and exciting imagery and boasts a dynamic rhythm that pulls the spectator straight into its narrative. The visual pleasure Electric Dragon 80000V grants the spectator is not merely due to the concatenation of elegant shot-compositions – visual constructions that thoughtfully exploit the geometrical dimension, but the way the monochrome gradations are utilized to elegantly enhance the configurative tensions.
The pleasing nature of the visual rhythm is not simply due to Ishii’s way of cutting either. Musical accompaniment is often used to subtly emphasize the rhythm of Ishii’s concatenation of images. Moreover, the more subtle pieces of industrial music, by virtue of infusing a certain atmosphere into the imagery, emphasizes the monochrome beauty of many of Ishii’s shot-compositions, inviting the spectator to savour these often visceral and even strangely tactile visual moments. ++The use of intertitles to introduce the speech of the protagonists adds a manga-like feel to the Ishii’s narrative and the utilized font heightens the chaotic punk atmosphere.
Electric Dragon 80000V offers a very atmospheric and tactile experience to the spectator. While, thematically speaking, the narrative is an empty shell, the beauty of the monochrome visuals as well as the roughness of the musical accompaniment is enough to keep the spectator engaged from start to finish.