Electric Dragon 80,000V Review
In Japan, Sogo Ishii is often referred to as a punk filmmaker, a reflection of both how he entered the industry and the content of much of his output. In fact Sogo Ishii did indeed play guitar in a punk band before realising his true calling at the age of nineteen when he produced his first full-length amateur film, Panic High School, filmed on an 8mm camera while he was still a student in 1978.
Two years later, Sogo Ishii directed his second amateur feature, Crazy Thunder Road, which so impressed Toei Studios that they distributed it theatrically. The film's hyper-kinetic editing style and loud music not only influenced Testuo: The Ironman director Shinya Tsukamoto but also attracted attention from a number of Japanese punk bands that subsequently hired Ishii to produce a number of concert films to sit alongside his continuing movie output.
In the year 2000, Sogo Ishii combined his twin loves of music and film once again in the form of Electric Dragon 80,000V, a project co-created with his fellow Mach 1.67 band member Tadanobu Asano.
Tadanobu Asano, currently one of Japan's hippest young actors, is probably best known to a Western audience for his portrayal of the sado-masochistic Kakihara in Takashi Miike's Ichi The Killer. In Electric Dragon 80,000V, Asano plays the role of 'Dragon Eye' Morrison, who after an accident as a child was left with the capability to both feed from and conduct electricity. The incident also activated a primitive, reptilian part of his brain, resulting in violent tendencies and an ability to talk to lizards. As an adult, 'Dragon Eye' uses his unique talents to play electric guitar, track down lost reptilian pets and participate in the occasional boxing match.
A worthy adversary comes in the form of the mysterious semi-masked assassin Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase) who provokes 'Dragon Eye' into an inevitable final confrontation.
Judged by conventional criteria, Electric Dragon 80,000V is a failure, as it features the slightest of plots, the most basic of characterisations and no deeper subtext. The first forty-five minutes of the film's fifty-five minute run-time are effectively just an extended build-up for the battle between 'Dragon Eye' Morrison and Thunderbolt Buddha, which, when it finally arrives, proves to be disappointingly brief and unspectacular due to the film's limited budget.
However, the film was clearly intended as an experience rather than as a conventional movie, and on this level it succeeds brilliantly, as the film is nothing short of an hour-long assault on the senses. Sogo Ishii fills the film with with remarkable and stylishly edited black-and-white imagery, but more than half of the experience comes from the film's explosive, hyper-real soundtrack. For its theatrical presentation, Sogo Ishii requested that cinema sound systems be turned up to rock-concert volume and this is clearly how the film should be watched - LOUD!
Rather than taking advantage of the short length of the film to produce a cheaper single-layer DVD-5, Pioneer have included a DTS track and a fair quantity of extras that necessitate a dual-layer DVD-9 disc. The DVD is encoded for Region 2, but is in the Japanese standard NTSC format rather than the PAL format that UK releases typically use.
Black levels could be improved, as could the level of detail, but the sumptuous black-and-white cinematography is otherwise nicely presented. No print damage or compression artefacts are noticeable and there are no signs of edge enhancement.
The film has minimal dialogue, but there's certainly no shortage of sound and music. Electric guitars, bursts of electricity and various hyper-real sound effects explode from all areas of the soundstage, leading to an immersive soundtrack that could quite happily serve as an hour-long surround sound effects demonstration disc. As ever, the DTS soundtrack offers improved clarity and punch, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent too. The disc is only prevented from getting full marks for audio by the lack of full bit-rate DTS. Crank your surround amp up to 11, sit back, and enjoy.
There is little dialogue to translate, but the English subtitles provided are flawless. The text is white with a black surround and remains clear and easy to read throughout.
The animated menus are predominately black and white with the occasional burst of colour. Most of the text is Japanese, though chapter titles and some menu headings are written in English.
A biographies and filmographies section contains Japanese text information on director Sogo Ishii and eleven other crew members, as well as more elaborate animated screens with information on the two stars, Tadanobu Asano and Masatoshi Nagase.
A seven-minute extended music video uses a split-screen display to combine storyboards, production stills and original footage in a fashion that is far more entertaining than the conventional storyboard-to-film comparison format.
The minute-and-a-half trailer provides a hyper-kinetic condensed version of the film.
An artwork section contains forty-one pages of illustrations and calligraphy created by Tadanobu Asano for the film. A generous supply of ninety-nine production stills are also included, as are eight notated variations of Morrison's dragon tattoo.
A narrated twenty-two minute segment exploring the creation of the film's special effects shows storyboarded instructions along with original, special effect and composite footage.
Recordings made at four screenings of the film include introductions and interviews with Sogo Ishii, Tadanobu Asano and Masatoshi Nagase. These range in length from three-and-a-half minutes to fourteen-and-a-half minutes.
Also present is a seemingly pointless seven-minute segment of footage from the film's final battle presented cropped to 4:3 full-frame.
Finally, the disc includes an archive of the film's official website as a DVD-Rom feature.
All of the bonus materials are in Japanese with no subtitles of any kind.
With a simple plot and basic characterisations, Electric Dragon 80,000V is more an experience than a film, but is still recommended for those with good surround systems and understanding neighbours.
Pioneer's Japanese DVD release features a decent transfer and an excellent surround track. It is expensive, but it is the only edition currently available.