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But when it comes to truly insane innovators in the realm of the repugnant, no one can hold a cup of warm pus to the Japanese. These Asian agitators just can't get enough of this kind of filmic filth, and they crank out the corruption with unhinged regularity. From 1989's Tetsuo: The Iron Man (a landmark in Eastern extremism) to the disturbing works of Kazuo Komizu (responsible for the revolting Entrails of a Virgin/ Beautiful Woman films) these anime influenced flights of foulness seem to grow more disturbing and hateful as the years progress.
Now we have a new name to add to the pantheon on the perverted: Shozin Fukui. Responsible for the robot sex workout 964 Pinocchio, we now get the chance to witness his squalid follow-up, a quirky little turd called Rubber's Lover. Fans of this genre will probably clamor that Fukui is some kind of viscous visionary. But if you look closer, you'll realize that the emperor has no clothes – and no skin, bodily fluids, or shame left, either.
Two research scientists – Motomiya and Hitosubashi – have stumbled onto a very dangerous discovery. They have been working with a new kind of experimental device, the Digital Direct Drive – a machine meant to increase a subject's psychic ability. Only problem is, most individuals fight the force of the DDD, and the overall results have been poor, or worse yet, harmful. But the team has discovered that when the drug ether is applied, the test case and the DDD merge much more successfully, unleashing untold torrents of hidden mental power. But now the pair have a bigger problem. As the ether's effects decrease, the subjects become addicted, requiring more of the drug to achieve any results. This bothers the powers that be, who are determined to shut the experiment down. The Boss sends Kiku, a secretary, over to the lab to complete the closure. Instead, she is trapped in an insane world of drug use and abuse, deviant sexual practices, gut wrenching terror and unusual extrasensory powers, as she learns the terrible truth. Motomiya and Hitotsubachi have transformed their colleague, Shimika, into a deranged dope fiend, desperate for more and more ether and endlessly experimented on to increase his abilities. The results, naturally, are disgusting...and deadly.
Rubber's Lover is just a mess of a movie, an attempt at pushing the boundaries of acceptable cinema that ends up making a mockery of its own self-important idealism. Difficult to fathom, even more unpleasant to experience and rich with repugnant imagery done better by hundreds of other atrocity auteurs, there is very little here to recommend, or even respect. Want to see a movie where people scream almost consistently for 90 minutes straight? Want to witness one wanton act of sexual or physical perversion after another until you loose count on the number of corruptions you've been privy to? Want your brain to boggle at the number of times you question what is happening to whom, and for what reason? Then belly up to this false bravado of a ballyhoo and prepare to be more perplexed than pissed off.
Coming as it does in a long lineage of such offerings from Japanese cinema, it is safe to say that Rubber's Lover wears its weak influences all over its derivative design. Once again applying the science vs. nature, government vs. individual philosophies to the tainted test, director Shozin Fukui is trying to stylize his way into our deepest, darkest contemporary fears. He hopes to hit on all the elements that we find frightening about our ever increasing Big Brother boardroom world, where everything is global and decisions seem to come from disconnected leaders guided like puppets by multinational conglomerates. The film opens with a shot of a shadowy figuring grilling our researchers in a very domineering, demented manner, suggesting that sinister forces are at play. Taking this concept a single step further, Fukui then makes our heroes, who seem hampered by the dressing down just a few scenes before, into equally insane megalomaniacs, ready to risk their lives and kill off their subjects for the sake of their own perverted power trip.
The result of all this ridiculousness, naturally, is that we have no emotional involvement with any of the characters in this tale. Even innocent secretary Kiku, who gets raped and abused by the mad medicos becomes a sore spot for sympathy when she decides she loves – or at least likes – the main ether head, Shimika and will sacrifice everything for him. Such a left field character switch – Kiku is a bride to be career gal who is giving up work to serve her husband (how noble) – becomes even more difficult to digest because Fukui doesn't prepare us for it. Indeed, all throughout Rubber's Lover, the director never explains a blessed thing. He is out to paint expressionistic extremes, leaving his audience to either fill in the blanks, or scratch their heads in baffled bewilderment. Now, no one expects a completely linear narrative with these types of films. The ability to get involved with a story like this one is based completely on how well the moviemakers open up the dramatic doorways. Instead of letting us in, however, Fukui is slamming his portals shut, making us witness the foul film freak show from the typical carnival tent show seat.
Since it won't be giving us clear characterization or a somewhat structured story to involve or entertain us, Rubber's Lover must get by on visuals alone, and this means the imagery better be pretty strong, less the audience get lazy, or just plain lost. Frankly, Rubber's Lover can't deliver their optical goods. Aside from a single shot of an eyeball rotating in its socket (which, naturally, gets overused) and the rather robotic look of Shimika in his rubber suit (hence the title, one supposes) the remaining metaphors are all begged, borrowed and betrothed to better made movies. From the City of Lost Children inspired DDD machine to the baneful bloody bed scene straight out of Angel Heart (except without all the vile vivisection) Fukui just can't help but homage the Hell out of his scenes. From the uninspired surrealism of Ken Russell's Altered States to the gratuitous gore imagery made infamous by those paisans of puke, the Italians, Rubber's Lover doesn't provide a single situation that can't be found elsewhere. While it may appear novel and new, this film is mining some very old chestnuts in the oeuvre of the awful.
But perhaps the greatest sin Rubber's Lover commits is providing so much gore and glop without a single, salient point to make. Now, no one is complaining if Fukui's goal is to make some manner of callous eye candy, a infected delicacy for those who think they've seen it all. But there appears to be an undercurrent of wholly underdeveloped message here that gets further and further away from any real meaning as the movie wears on. At least when David Lynch eviscerates his monster baby toward the end of Eraserhead, he gives us enough of a thematic resonance to make the vile act seem cinematically acceptable. Fukui is just throwing on the grue without the first idea of what his images are supposed to suggest, or how they can fulfill his symbolic goals. There are better ways to say that drugs are bad, corporations are corrupt and scientists are playing God when they push the limits of acceptable experimentation, so to toss in all the blood, guts, cum and vomit seems the antithesis of such sentiments. Technology run amuck has very little connection to the nastiness of nature. Rubber's Lover needed a far more focused foundation to make its corrupt case.
Still, there will be those who admire Fukui's fortitude, who will look at his monochrome exercise in excremental excessiveness and pour on the plaudits. And they would be entitled to their opinion. Overlooking all the forced flailing of this film, its lack of a true tone or incremental buildup in bile, there is a smattering of artistry that sort of shines through. Fukui does have a fierce eye for the ferocious, turning almost everything in his cinematic world beyond even the most advanced levels of Spinal Tap's proverbial "11". He is quite adept at creating a hurricane of horror, mixing all the media at his disposal to assault the senses with strangeness and shit. But when the final fetidness leads to boredom, not begrudging acceptance or outright praise, the overload is all for naught. Rubber's Lover may speak to a cynical section of society that believes in the complete dishonesty of the world right outside their door, but as a film, it fails to function as amusement or allegory. Instead, this is the old geek biting the head off the chicken routine, and without the proper carny or babbling barker setup, the payoff is just putrescence for the sake of sickness, nothing more...and a Hell of a lot less.
When black and white is in perfect visual balance, even the most mundane movie can look exceptionally good. Unfortunately, director Fukui relies on a palette that pushes the dark way above the light, resulting in a monochrome 1.33:1 full screen image thats far too shadowy to be sustainable. When we do get some clear contrasts, the details are dynamic and the effect rather startling. Unless he meant his movie to be this muddled, Fukui would be better served getting a remastered version of Rubber's Lover out to the viewing public. Perhaps his miscreant vision plays more cogently when everything is perceptible, not lost in a sea of pestilent blackness.
In the world of ear shattering sonics, Rubber's Lover has got to be the most challenging home theater experience in the broad range of Dolby Digital Stereo. Filling each speaker with enough noise, voices, sound, fury, decibels, industrial distortion and bone-rattling shrillness to destroy any notion of auditory intricacy, this is more like an aural endurance test than a motion picture soundtrack. Combined with the cacophony of shrieks, the meat beat manifesto of the music and the lack of any substantial separation in the mix, this movie grates on your ganglia like few films before or since. If he was trying to match the visual style of his scenarios in the audio department, Fukui sure succeeds in the all out eardrum drubbing. This is one loud mofo of a movie.
Included on this DVD are a few fascinating – and one particularly foul – bonus features. A short film directed by Fukui from 1990 entitled Gerorisuto, is offered, and it too has a particular unpleasantness all its own. Really nothing more than a 12 minute exercise in watching actress Chiemi Endô run around the subways of Tokyo and puke up her guts (the title is the Japanese word for 'vomiting'), this is an equally pointless particle of Fukui's limited catalog. We are also treated to a few trailers for other films (including the director's previous 964 Pinocchio), a gallery of grotesqueries and a 20+ minute interview with the filmmaker.
Fukui seems like a nice enough guy, and appears very intelligent when speaking about film and movies that have influenced him. But when he describes the ideas that inspired Rubber's Lover and the concepts he was trying to get across in the screenplay, he appears to be describing a totally different entity all together. Though it is interesting to hear what he has to say, Fukui seems lost in his own wounded world of wide-eyed idealism, unable to see his films as flawed or even failing. His Q&A is quaint, but also reminds us that he made this madness on purpose. And that is more frightening that anything in the film itself.
Perhaps age has something to do with one's proclivity toward cyberpunk. After all, the genre appears to be based in a belief that the world is an oppressive power that must be rebelled against less it swallow you whole, and very few adults have the temporal tolerance for such idealistic whimsy. As one matures, their desire for the extreme gets channeled into work related stress, family related problems and mortality related fantasies. No longer are we willing to view the future as some fudged up place where perversion rules the halls of industry and science treats the citizenry like a glorified guinea pig ranch. For those still young enough to give the planet such a jaundiced, jaded eye, the entire Geek cinema movement must jack into the cerebrum like a flesh-colored firewire. It is for these freak show connoisseurs that Rubber's Lover was made. To them, it will be recommended required rebellion. But for those of us too mature to really give a crap, it would be better just to skip it. There is nothing here you haven't seen in your own personal nightmares about growing old and out of touch, anyway.
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