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Kamikaze '89

Film Movement // Unrated // September 27, 2016
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted October 4, 2016 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Set in the dystopian future world of 1989, Wolf Gremm's Kamikaze ‘89 (which was made in 1982) stars Rainer Werner Fassbinder as Jansen, a police lieutenant who serves the public trust in a Germany that has risen to the top of the world economic ladder. Life is supposedly great. Everyone is doing well for themselves, and everyone should be happy. But this Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be. Substance abuse, even drinking, is no longer permitted but that doesn't mean it's gone away, only that it's gone underground. The country is controlled by corporations and the masses are more or less forced to conform. The media is controlled by The Combine, the biggest of the big.

This makes it all the more striking then that Jansen struts about the city conducting official police business clad head to toe in leopard print. When one of the corporate headquarters buildings, The Combine, is the site of a bombing attempt, Jansen hits the streets. His boss has given him four days to solve the case and stresses its urgency even though no one was killed. Right off the bat there's a murder at The Combine, presumed to have something to do with a foe referred to as Krysmopompas, a comic book creator out to shake things up. Jansen gets a confession but he knows it's not the real deal, he keeps at it, going about talking to anyone who might have a clue. It all seems like some sort of mad joke but once the signs start pointing to a man named Weiss (Franco Nero), Jansen isn't so sure. And what's with the hidden floor at the top of the building? With some help from his partner Anton (Gunter Kaufmann) he just might find out.

Based on the novel by Per Wahlöö entitled Mord im der 31. Stock (Murder On The 31st Floor in English), Kamikaze ‘89 would be the final role that Rainer Werner Fassbinder would play before his death at the age of thirty-seven from a drug overdose. You get the impression that Fassbinder is more or less playing himself here, he's a little pretentious and has a thing for excess, qualities that would seem to have mirrored his real life persona. At the same time, Fassbinder, like Jansen, worked a lot. His output was impressive (he made forty-one movies in thirteen years) if not always successful, a lot of interesting experiments tucked away in that odd filmography of his. Jansen has this problem too. Not everything he tries in order to track the case works, but he keeps at it. If Fassbinder doesn't show a lot of range in front of the camera in this particular film, he cuts an unforgettable shadow. His portly frame and greasy looking beard make him an unlikely looking cop when you think about how stern and tough looking so many American movie cops tend to resemble. Seeing him run around this ‘futuristic' Berlin in leopard print is amusing and is reason enough to watch the movie, it's quite funny. The rest of the cast is interesting too. Günther Kaufmann, Juliane Lorenz and Bridgitte Mira all appeared in their fair of Fassbinder collaborations so it's not shocking to see them here even if he isn't directing the picture. Franco Nero makes quite an impression too, popping up dressed in dismal looking army fatigues with one lens of his glasses blacked out.

The whole thing is fairly nuts. There is humor here to be sure but it is often very deadpan and very dark. It comes not only from the situations in the film but more often the characters' reactions to those situations, or lack thereof. Everyone seems particularly nonplussed by so much of what happens in the film that you can't really expect to take much of it seriously, but then, you never get the impression that you're supposed to. The use of color in the film can be quite striking, and the compositions are interesting. Berlin might supposed to be made out to be a utopia at this point in the future, but it's clearly not meant for us to fall for that marketing ploy any more than its populace. Gremm's direction is good, the pacing is decent. Lots of stuff happens even if you're not always entirely sure why. Jean-Luc Godard's influence is all over it, it's hard not to draw comparisons to Alphavilla, but it is its own beast in most ways. Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream contributes a pretty great soundtrack comprised primarily of off-kilter synths and oddball percussion. It's often times style over substance but if nothing else, it's very entertaining and genuinely unique.

The Blu-ray:


Kamikaze ‘89 arrives on Blu-ray from Film Movement framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in a transfer taken from a new 4k restoration that is generally pretty solid. Colors look a little quirky here and there, sometimes brighter in certain scenes than others, but the image is pretty clean. Some print damage does show up now and then but it's minor stuff, nothing too distracting. Detail is typically quite good save for a few shots that have harsh lighting and/or softer focus employed. Obviously those scenes aren't supposed to look as crisp as the majority of the other scenes. Texture is nice and skin tones look good. The image is free of compression artifacts, edge enhancement and any obvious noise reduction. No complaints here! This is a solid, film-like transfer that would seem to accurately replicate the elements from which it was culled.


Audio options are provided in German language DTS-HD Mono with removable subtitles available in English only. The German lossless track sounds fine. Levels are nicely balanced throughout and the score has good depth to it. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and dialogue stays clean and clear from start to finish.


The main extra on the first disc is a commentary track with the film's producer, producer Regina Ziegler, who was also married to director Wolf Gremm. It's an interesting track that allows her to give us some welcome background on the film's director, his relationship with its leading man and some insight into this collaboration and how it came to be. She talks about her part producing the picture as well and offers up some thoughts on the storyline while also offering up some information on the locations and the cast that appear in the picture. There are some long and frequent gaps of silence here, however.

In addition, the first disc also contains a sixty-minute documentary entitled Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Last Year that Gremm put together primarily by narrating behind the scenes footage shot on the set of Kamikaze ‘89' and Querelle. Gremm himself narrates overtop of this footage and gives it some important context, making this more than just a selection of great behind the scenes footage but also an insightful examination of Fassbinder's methods as both an actor and a director. Great stuff.

Rounding out the extras on the first disc are some amazing radio spots that feature none other than John Cassavetes talking in a faux-German accent about the film, sometimes screaming quite violently (these are amazing), a trailer for the film's 2016 reissue, trailers for a few other Film Movement releases, menus and chapter selection.

On disc two, which is a DVD and not a Blu-ray, we get a seventy-five minute documentary made by Wolf Gremm called Wolf At The Door that he put together using a camera phone and some smaller, lower end digital video cameras to document his struggle with cancer. It's quite a moving and somber piece, but so too does it manage to paint a very honest portrait of a man coming to terms with the end of his life and preparing for how best to deal with it.

Inside the clear Blu-ray case along with the two discs is an advertising insert showing off other Film Movement releases as well as a nice color booklet containing credits for the feature as well as an essay by Nick Pinkerton on the film and its effectiveness and a second essay from Samuel Prime that discusses the important of the film's soundtrack.

Final Thoughts:

Kamikaze ‘89 is enjoyable absurd and deliriously entertaining even if it doesn't always make sense or seem like it's all that concerned with its plot. Fassbinder devotees will be more enamored with this than casual film fans but if you're got an affinity strange sci-fi and films dealing with a dystopian future, you should get a kick out of this. Film Movement has gone all out on the Blu-ray release, presenting it in great shape and with some seriously impressive extras. Recommended!

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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