I thought I had cool cinematic friends. I hung with Dante Harper when we were at NC State. I went to film school with David Gordon Green and Danny McBride. I twice had drinks with Todd Phillips. I read interviews with John Zorn. I hung out at various art houses. I rented VHS tapes from Dave’s Videodrome. I used to buy Film Threat magazine and listen to Throbbing Gristle. I followed various cool movie websites and Twitter feeds. And yet I had no clue that Sogo Ishii’s Burst City existed until the review copy was sent to me by Arrow Video. Two hours after I hit play, I felt elated by the cinematic experience and so deflated that I finally discovered Burst City nearly 38 years after it first hit the screen. I don’t know if it would have changed my life, but I would have been forcing people to watch it late at night for the last four decades.
What is Burst City? This is a world on the fringe of Tokyo in a time that’s just past your bedtime. There’s not much plot. A group of powerful men are bent on building a nuclear power plant on a plot of land that’s being controlled by a group of outcast youth that live to get messed up, race cars and rock out. The music dominates. The punk rock groups The Rockers and The Stalin have a battle of the bands that turns into an all out brawl. Armed troops show up to turn the mosh pit into a violent melee. This is a celluloid adrenaline rush that refuses to take it easy on the audience. The imagines are fast and furious. The Japanese cast looks like they are waiting for their own Mad Max installment. You give up on trying to follow characters and plot and just crowd dive into and get caught up in the slam dance action. This film is all about attitude, speed and screaming.
Burst City is a pure ball of energy. And it hurts that I hadn’t been passed the VHS tape back at the end of the ’80s like quite a few other underground movies. Director Sogo Ishii set the screen on fire back in 1982. Why didn’t it get the same buzz as Decoder? Sure Tetsuo the Iron Man and Akira made it over to these shores so the indie film world wasn’t anti-Japan. Although they arrived years later. Maybe the art house distributors didn’t think a film with so much Japanese punk rock would connect with American kids. Did they still feel burned when Pink Lady didn’t conquer America with Pink Lady and Jeff? What really matters is Burst City is out on a Blu-ray so you can feel and hear it all. Nearly forty years later and the intensity has not let up in a single frame. And whenever this pandemic ends, I’ll be showing Burst City to anyone stuck on the sofa.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. This new transfer gives detail to the outrageous outfits and decimated locations. The audio is LCPM mono. You’ll get hammered in the face by the speakers. While the track is in Japanese, most of the cast is screaming in pain. The movie is subtitled in English.
Audio Commentary by Tom Mes, author of Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto. He knows this period of time. He points out that this is the best film outu of the jishu eiga era.
The Punk Spirit of ’82 (56:28) interviews director Sogo Ishii. He speaks about how started working in 8mm. He had decided to get into independent filmmaking rather than work nearly 20 to 25 years at a corporate studio to get a shot at directing. He also didn’t like how the studios only wanted top students and you had to pass a massive test. What point is it to be a rebel artist and pass a Cinematic SAT. He goes into the process that led to making Burst City and how his career has gone over the decades.
Bursting Out (27:08) talks with academic and former jishu eiga Filmmaker Yoshiharu Tezuka. He was part of the no budget – no kills filmmaking. He was lighting director of Burst City. He takes blame for the rather darker scenes. He speaks about how in the late ’70s, the Japanese filmmaking industry was hitting a rough patch and younger voices weren’t getting heard. So they started making their own movies on Super 8 and 16mm. Jishu eiga filmmaking meant “self-made” films. It was punk.
Theatrical Trailer (1:30) gives a tastes of the high octane action coming to the screen near you in Japan. “This Is Not A Film About Rioting. It’s a Riotous Film” declares the filmmakers.
Image Gallery (8:10) includes posters, publicity photos and behind the scenes shots,
Arrow Video presents Burst City. Directed by: Sogo Ishii. Screenplay by: Sogo Ishii & Mitsuhiko Akita. Starring: Takanori Jinnai, Shinya Ohe, Tsui Tobu, Kō Machida & Shigeru Izumiya. Running Time: 115 minutes. Released: November 10, 2020.