|Pros: Firstly by a long way is the mad and brilliant performance by Onn Chan. That is what makes this film more than anything. Second is the brilliant vision and cinematography of the film. The mix of punk underground and absurdism is striking as well. Impressive guerrilla performing.
Cons: Sometimes it shows its rough edges big-time, but why not? It’s all part of this crazy trip.
Hey – you think you know about the underground? Just because you have seen Erasorhead/El Topo/Ma Mere/Sweet Movie/*insert name of any other film vaguely of the underground here*? Well – you don’t know nothing about the underground. You, sitting there in your comfortable apartment buying your dvds on Amazon – what do you know about underground? You who have never been to hidden illegal cinemas set up in abandoned PowerStations or under the streets of London in forgotten chambers – you who actually buy dvds? From DVD producers? Gimme a break! What do you know about underground?
Underground is an elusive concept it seems. Whatever it is, people are only too happy to point out that it is far beyond your own personal ken. No matter what you have seen or experienced, underground is something beyond it. Underground therefore becomes a sort of chimera that can never actually be seen because the very act of catching it removes its underground status. Underground is what you don’t know about. At least if you are the sort who reads reviews online, then buys commercial dvds. Underground is as far down the rabbit hole as it is possible to imagine it stretching vertiginously below you. The only place where laws and commercialism and perverted social norms don’t matter. Where intellectual property and other things that have stifled art can be forgotten. Where horrors and truths and philosophies are broadcast that would make the DVD producers faint dead away. The only place where you can be truly radical if you want and where purveyors of ideas that could change the world – if they weren’t so radical that nobody would listen – rub shoulders with amateur porn and smut directors. Or so radical that anyone caught with them would be incarcerated in remote bays behind barbed wire for the rest of their lives. So my vivid imagination pictures it anyway. Underground . . . in its very definition, not something that can function within mainstream life.
[Don’t believe me? Ok, here’s a few concrete examples. When I was at college, I remember news of a certain performance drifting round. Not a college performance but one that happened in a commercial theatre. News was vague and all I can remember is the basic essence. Which was the director on stage with a line of female actors. The performance was running normally enough for a modern event, until he suddenly broke the nose of one of them, leaving her on the floor dazed and bloody. The audience was startled, wondering what on earth they had just seen. Special effect? Apparently not. The next girl ended up with her arm broken in a similar savage attack. Eventually it was too much and the audience invaded and halted things and the police were called. The man behind this weird performance was arrested, even though it seems the girls had been totally aware of and happy with what was intended – quite happy to have their bones broken for art. The reactions to this at college were obviously rather polarising, but the shocking statement it made about the difference between reality and fantasy in the minds of the audience fascinated many people. As did the simple, terrible drama of the idea and the ‘trick’ it played on the unsuspecting audience. Indeed, after hearing about it, a female friend of mine came up to me and said “Wow – I want to be in a performance like that.” The director later committed suicide. Is he the same one who blew his brains out on stage with a shotgun against a white sheet as a part of his performance? Who knows. But neither of those things could ever exist within the familiar commercial world – which qualifies them as underground art in my opinion.]
Why am I talking so about the underground? Is 964 Pinocchio underground in this sense? Hardly! Hey – I bought it on Amazon! But it is a film very much associated with the word Underground by many and it may be that this film is about as far as it is possible to go while still being able to function in the film world. Along perhaps with Sweet Movie (which would probably land its director in jail if it was made now). It is filled with guerilla filming techniques in abandoned locations and in public places (sneaking in and grabbing a quick scene and then getting out before any trouble occurs), giving the Tokyo public a few memorable surprises in the process. (How would you react if a white-faced, blood-stained man in rags came barging through the crowd in a busy city street at a full run, screaming and pulling what looks like a several ton lump of concrete behind him, making you all leap out of the way? Or maybe you encounter the girl in a welding mask skipping gaily through the supermarket pushing a trolley at full speed and filling it with chains?) It also has an anonymous lead actress, known only as Onn-Chan, who gives what I will stick my neck out and call one of the most remarkable (and outrageous) performances I have ever seen in a Japanese film. I have been able to discover nothing about her – that nick-name is a blank wall. All this would probably cause all sorts of bureaucratic headaches in the UK but mercifully never stood in the way of the film happening in Japan.
So – what is 964 Pinocchio? It’s an obscure film with no UK dvd release – not one of the Japanese names that you tend to hear about much except on the more specialist websites. And there the reviews are very mixed and uncertain what to make of it. The US dvd label markets it as ‘Cyberpunk’, which is a dubious term at best. In this case perhaps it is more punk than cyber, since it is very far from being a techno or cyberspace sort of story environment! More an urban nightmare! In essence, the film resembles a hallucinatory trip more than any kind of normal storytelling exercise. That story tells some weirdery about an escaped brainwashed (and obviously seriously damaged) male sex slave known as a Pinocchio and the company desperately trying to find him again and the totally loopy character who takes him home and ‘looks after’ him (in ways that you must pray you are never looked after)! Ending eventually with a weird, trippy conclusion that – well – is about what you might expect from this film and which I don’t really pretend to understand. Something about physically combining heads I think. Also, the special effects are either outrageously hokey or works of low-budget genius (your call – i vote for the latter) – and the same can be said if of the acting. Add to that a few grotesque spin-offs from porn culture thrown in for good measure, the ‘worlds longest ever vomiting scene’ in a public subway and curiously paralelling the notorious subway scene in Żuławski’s Possession (it’s a shame Onn-Chan cant win a medal for that one!) and a lead actor (964 Pinocchio himself) who spends almost the entire script thrashing around, wailing and making funny noises of torment . . . and it is quite a recipe.
Yes – as with so many of these low-budget and somewhat ingenuous numbers, this film still manages to hit some weird kind of spot and elevate itself to the rank of bizarre and brilliant outsider art. And of course, it is the way that this story is presented and the director’s own unique vision that achieves that. Hallucinatory, lurid, very dark – sometimes very funny and absurdist and every inch a mind-fuck. Indeed, in some ways, this thing reminds me more of modern performance art more than normal cinema. Shozin Fukui handles his material beautifully, obviously with a considerable nod to the famous Tetsuo: Iron Man, but also with a very distinct long-breathed style of his own. It is more like a piece of music than a narrative that progresses and builds in a normal way – with great long spans of film dedicated to a single activity. And you know – for all the hokey aspects of this, I am somewhat awed by it and the actors involved in it. The whole thing drives forward with an energy that it is hard to imagine in any more ‘polished’ and ‘professional’ creation. Indeed, perhaps more than anything else, this film is a showcase for its lead actress – that obscure and wonderful Onn-Chan. Who she is I have no idea – whether she has done anything else I have no idea. But what an amazing performance! She is a twisted, frightening, insane, glowingly outragious and totally wonderful character. And she pulls some of the best faces i have ever seen on screen!
I cant help thinking that this may be one of the few films where it is actually true that the best way to approach it is after several stiff drinks.
Shozin Fukui went on to direct the equally hallucinatory, (only) slightly less weird and possibly more polished Rubbers Lover and the two films are available in a box set – known simply as the Cyberpunk Collection. Rumours and whispers have it that he has also done three more films since then, but there is no sign of these outside of Japan and most sites have never heard of them. Maybe, heh, they are too underground?