Sogo Ishii is the maverick of Japanese cinema. Making amateur films with an 8 mm camera while still in high school in the 1970's, his independent films garnered much acclaim and influenced an entire generation of Japanese directors including Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Ironman) and Takashi Miike (Audition). After taking some time off in the late 1990's, Ishii returned to directing in 2000 with the excellent and lavish sword drama Gojoe, and followed that up with a film that returned to him to his roots, the punk rock inspired Electric Dragon 80,000V. This film couldn't be more different from Gojoe. While the earlier film was a beautiful and captivating 2 hour spectacle that tells an interesting and intricate story, Electric Dragon has almost no story, runs less than an hour, and goes for stimulating the viewers senses more than their intellect. Even with these differences, both films are very good and clearly illustrate what a talented director Ishii is.
Dragon Eye Morrison (Tadanobu Asano, Ichi the Killer) is a reptile detective. If you lose your pet lizard, he'll find it. He's very good at his job because when he was a young boy he climbed up an electric power line tower and received 80,000 volts of electricity. Instead of killing him, the shock stimulates the reptilian part of his brain and makes him very violent. As a child he's always getting into fights (and winning). To curb his aggressive manner, he undergoes extensive electric shock treatments for years and years. It doesn't work of course, but that in combination with the shock he received on the tower gives him the ability to conduct electricity.
No hero is complete without a villain however, and into this story comes Thunderbolt Budda (Masatoshi Nagase, Gojoe), a half machine, half cyborg creature who has total control over the electrical spectrum due to being struck by lightning as a child. Thunderbolt doesn't like the idea of anyone else having the same power that he does, and sets out to see which of them is more powerful.
The plot is very basic, not much more than a 45-minute set up for a 10-minute fight, and there's no characterization to speak of. Dismissing the film on that basis would be a mistake however because this is a film that's meant to be experienced, not analyzed. Like Dragon Eye Morrison, viewers have to tap into their primal brains and let the movie flow over them.
In that respect, this movie is a total success. It's almost an assault on the senses stimulating the viewer both visually and aurally. The film has very little dialog, and much of that is reproduced as large intertitles splashing the words on the screen. The audio portion of the film it largely taken up by punk music, loud and intense but not grating. It fits the movie well, giving it a raw feeling.
The black and white cinematography is quite impressive, with every shot looking like a still photograph. These eye catching images mesh wonderfully with the thrashing music to create a film viewing experience that is impressive and unique.
This LE DVD set comes with the movie on a single sided DVD and a bonus soundtrack CD housed in a single width clear keepcase. There is an insert with a short essay on director Sogo Ishii.
This movie comes with the original Japanese language soundtrack in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, as well as a stereo English dub. I screened the film with the DTS track which was excellent. The full soundstage was utilized with music and effects totally surrounding the viewer. There's very little dialog in the film, but the audio does play an important part in the telling of and the dynamic intense soundtrack really works well. The sound was clean and clear without any distortion or other audio defects.
The black and white widescreen anamorphic image (1.78:1) looks very good. There is a little aliasing present but besides that it's a nice transfer. The contrast is very good and the blacks are deep and solid. The range of grey tones is large too. A very nice looking disc.
A good number of interviews are also provided, including the formal press release, an interview with producer Takenori Sento, and three other discussions about the movie that were filmed after screenings. Wrapping the extras section up are a series of trailers and a music video.
This limited edition release of the movie also includes a CD soundtrack from the film, by the punk band Mach 1.67, which is made up of the film's composer Hiroyuki Onogawa, director Sogo Ishii, and star Tadanobu Asano. The music is pretty good, especially if you like raw powerful rock, and it's well worth getting the LE for this soundtrack.
If you want an interesting film viewing experience that is different from most others, check out this movie. With exciting visuals and an intense soundtrack the movie wacks the viewer on the side of the head. This isn't a film that requires a lot of though, it is a film that should be absorbed. This experimental film by Sogo Ishii succeeds wonderfully. Highly Recommended.