Bullet Ballet (1998)
By: CJ on February 25, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Artsmagic (USA). Region 1, NTSC 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 87 minutes
The Movie
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring: Shinya Tsukamoto, Kirina Mano, Tatsuya Nakamura, Takahiro Murase and Tomorowo Taguchi
Screenplay: Shinya Tsukamoto
Music: Chu Ishikawa
Country: Japan
Most western viewers will already be familiar with director Shinya Tsukamoto's earlier works, the techno-organic surrealistic nightmares of Tetsuo parts 1 and 2. Bullet Ballet, however, moves away from the futuristic overtones of his Tetsuo films and firmly focuses on the bleakness of the human condition. Tsukamoto himself describes Bullet Ballet as a study of 'how the human body reacts to a city'. It's a grim film indeed and shot in stark black and white, which gives it an edge that technicolor may have deprived it of.

Bullet Ballet is not an easy film to summarise, as it's narrative is very jarring and disjointed, but deliberately so. The central protagonist, Goda (played by Shinya Tsukamoto himself), who works as a director of television commercials, finds his life falling apart and stripped of all its glossy veneer following the suicide of his wife. He learns that his wife had in her possession a Smith and Wesson Chief's Special, a gun which she had turned on herself to end her life. Goda becomes fixated with this piece of weaponry and obsessively tries to gain for himself this most prized of possessions. His search, however, leads him on a downward spiral into the criminal underworld of Tokyo and more than once he finds himself ripped-off and on the receiving end of vicious brutality. Driven by an inner compulsion, that seems to be beyond even his own understanding, he relentless pursues the goal of acquiring this firearm. As he descends further into the chaos of criminality he becomes more and more introspective, struggling by turns to come to terms with not only the death of his wife, but also the purpose of his own existence.

Eventually, through a series of bizarre circumstances – including a marriage of convenience – he gets of hold of the treasure he sought so hard to attain. In a strange twist of fate, however, he comes to realise that his purpose in having the gun is not to play the role of aggressor, but to become a protector, even to the point of protecting those who once meant him harm.

Bullet Ballet is an extremely strange film, full of images of gun fetishism and brutal violence. One montage cleverly shows a gun repeatedly being fired intercut with scenes of men at war. It's an interesting statement about man and his ongoing relationship with violence and destruction. All things considered, man is, after all, the most destructive force on the planet.

Viewers who have a preference for straightforward linear narrative may find Bullet Ballet a thoroughly confusing and baffling experience. Tsukamoto isn't a director who likes to play within the conventions of cinema and Bullet Ballet could almost be considered avant-garde in its approach, it's certainly totally unlike anything coming out of Hollywood these days. However, I think this is a good thing. Tsukamoto pushes the boundaries of what cinema should be and makes films pleasing to himself; the audience is secondary, really. He's quite open in that regard and plainly states that his films are his own creations made for his own satisfaction. Many other directors would have become self-indulgent if afforded this opportunity, but not Tsukamoto. His films are never overlong and he never succumbs to filming more than he has to in order to tell his story, which is a talent in itself. Bullet Ballet is a remarkable film and one that aficionados of Asian cinema will eagerly lap up, I'm sure.
Artsmagic provide the film with a solid transfer that renders the black and white cinematography perfectly. The contrast is just right, not too dark and not too bright, whilst image detail is sharp .The transfer is in very good shape and is free from any print damage or artifacting. The film itself is presented in a ratio of 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement for the benefit of those with widescreen monitors.
The audio provided is a powerful 5.1 Japanese language track with clearly defined English subtitles for those of us not yet versed in speaking this oriental tongue. The audio makes full use of the 5.1 surround sound platform and sounds very impressive. It certainly adds to the overall presentation of the film and gives it a depth that would otherwise be lacking. The film includes several sequences that are an assault on the senses, so they need to be complimented by a good audio track, as is presented here.
Extra Features
As usual, Artsmagic don't skimp on the extras, and there's some good supplementary features included here. What you get are an on-camera interview with the director and star, Shinya Tsukamoto, promotional materials, a feature-length audio commentary from the extremely knowledgeable Tom Mes, some trailers, and biographies and filmographies of the key cast and crew involved in the making of the film.
The Verdict
Bullet Ballet is a very grim study of man and his fascination with violence and destruction, but it's also extremely compelling viewing. Tsukamoto handles the material superbly and draws you into his cinematic world of pain and despair, whilst making some challenging observations along the way. It's not a film for all tastes (what is?), but I think that genre fans would really appreciate what is on offer here, especially those who are tired of the same old formulaic, audience-friendly films currently being trundled out of Hollywood (with the odd exception, of course). I enjoyed it and found it to be an engrossing viewing experience. Try it, you never know, you might actually like it.
Movie Score
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