A masterwork from one of Japan's greatest contemporary
filmmakers, Shinya Tsukamoto. His other creations have all contained explicit
fantastic and supernatural elements. TOKYO FIST, on the other hand, is a boxing
movie, but unlike any other boxing movie you've ever seen. It eschews any and
all conventions, presenting a bleak vision of life in modern-day Japan. It's a
wild and often upsetting film that you won't soon forget
Shinya Tsukamoto's stunning first film, TETSUO, had a
man metamorphose into a giant robot-creature. Working on a shoestring budget,
Tsukamoto wrote, produced, directed, photographed, edited, designed the props
and even played the lead role in that film. His hard work paid off. The film was
an international cult hit. Naturally, TETSUO'S greatest success was in its
native Japan, where it spawned an entire
Unfortunately, Tsukamoto's follow-up features HIRUKO
THE GOBLIN (1989) and TETSUO 2 (1991), despite undeniable flashes of brilliance,
were vastly inferior to his debut effort. It was beginning to seem like
Tsukamoto was a one-shot wonder...but then TOKYO FIST appeared in 1995 and
Tsukamoto once again handled the majority of the
technical chores himself; he remains one of the modern cinema's only true
auteurs. He also played the lead role, actually undergoing the intense physical
regimen depicted in the film. Most critics agree that this is his finest work to
date, reaffirming Tsukamoto as one of the most interesting and challenging
filmmakers on the planet.
Tsukamoto plays Tsuda, a wimpy insurance salesman who
is engaged to Hizuro, an apparently normal young woman. Unfortunately,
muscle-headed boxer Takuji
an old friend of Tsuda's
enters the scene and seduces Hizuro away from him. Tsuda resolves to get her
back, and begins training to become a boxer himself. Drunk on the violence these
two exhibit, Hizuro begins her own metamorphosis, mutilating her body with
tattoos and piercing. The story boils down to a three-way psychic duel of sorts,
in a blood-gushing finale definitely not for the squeamish!
That's about all the "plot" we get. The film is an
extremely claustrophobic three character piece...or, if you like, four character
piece, the fourth character being Tokyo itself. As these three lunatics become
increasingly obsessed with destroying each other and themselves, the city is
always present in the fore and background, with its giant sky-scrapers, faceless
crowds and sterile, futuristic architecture.
Tsukamoto's strengths are definitely not in the
storytelling department, but then the story is clearly not important here. We're
meant to experience this twisted tale through the disturbing images with which
Tsukamoto fills the screen.
If this film were any more intense, we'd need a
seatbelt to view it. Tsukamoto eschews conventional movie logic, creating a
cinematic universe uniquely his own. At times it resembles a form of surrealist
poetry, with the visuals intended to trigger off associations in viewers' minds
rather than impart a coherent narrative.
Foremost among the many memorable images on display are
the depictions of modern Tokyo's cityscape, a dystopian nightmare photographed
from the strangest possible angles. Living in this deranged landscape, it's no
wonder all the characters are obsessive and insane.
Many viewers will be driven away by the sheer
kineticism of the whole enterprise. The camera literally never stops moving and
the editing makes even music videos look restrained. As the characters pummel,
shout at, and slam into one another, Tsukamoto creates a dark symphony of flesh,
metal, motion and blood.
Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Cinematographer/Editor: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Shinya Tsukamoto, Kaori Fujii, Kohji Tsukamoto, Naoto Takenaka