Romaji: Tōkyō Fuisuto
Japanese Release Date: 21st October, 1995
Running Time: 87 mins.
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring: Shinya Tsukamoto, Kahori Fujii, Koji Tsukamoto, Naomasa, Musaka, Naoto Takenaka, Tomorowo Taguchi, Koichi Wajima, Nobu Kanaoka
Tokyo Fist has no biomechanical nightmares and there is only one psychotic stop-motion vision but this film is an intense psychological horror which depicts how people can be warped by a hate so intense that it shapes their world and leads to dreadful violence.
Tsuda (Shinya Tsukamoto) is an insurance salesman who spends his days selling policies to people and his nights sprawled out on a sofa watching films like The Third Man. He is counting down the days until he gets married to Hizuru (Fujii), a seemingly normal office worker. Then, when delivering an insurance policy to a boxing gym, he meets a former friend named Kojima (Koji Tsukamoto) who has taken up boxing and finds himself in the grip of a rage that has festered for years which is linked to a traumatic incident that left psychic scars on him but Tsuda has forgotten. Angry at Tsuda’s life, Kojima decides to destroy him.
This might sound like a conventional thriller but Tsukamoto is no conventional director. While a lot of the crazy elements of his Tetsuo films are absent he retains his frenzied approach to editing and directing and his visceral take on body-horror and how locations and intense emotions can make people mutate.
Visually Tokyo Fist takes place in the same locations as Tetsuo II. We see the same cramped and sterile apartment complex, the same dirty underpasses, and all of it amidst suffocating and densely packed buildings which are inhabited by people trapped and leading atomised lives in the same steel and glass skyscrapers that threaten to devour characters. The reason for these similarities is because Tsukamoto has taken on the role of cinematographer (as well as writer and director) again and he is still interested in depicting Tokyo and its environment as a malign influence that brings out the worst in characters and this film features yet another salary-man who morphs into a monster thanks to intense hatred.
Don’t you know you’ll make him a killing machine
At the centre of this film is an intense love triangle which involves characters who are much more complex than the ones in the Tetsuo films. Watching the unfolding drama is gripping and disturbing in equal measure. The trio all have insecurities, anxieties and hidden depths of rage that are brought out and shaped by the city and it becomes a mess as they lose control of their sanity and give way to rage. What may seem like a simple case of wimpy salary-man challenged by boxer with a grudge with a beautiful girl in the middle becomes much more unpredictable, violent and twisted than I originally thought it would be thanks to a script which parcels out details and action brilliantly.
Shinya Tsukamoto takes the lead as salary-man Tsuda. He looks placid and as spaced out as the faceless crowds around him. He sleepwalks through life until he is given an insurance job to do at boxing gym. Here he enters a nightmarish and explosive world full of people who look like pounded meat and it is here that he is spotted by his more energetic former friend Kojima who pursues him and invades his life. Kojima’s entry into Tsuda’s home reveals that the relationship between Tsuda and Hizuru is more difficult than we first thought and it sparks off a battle between the two males as Kojima uses his sexually and physically aggressive behaviour to intimidate and bait Tsuda who lets his jealousy get the better of him, which sparks a change in Tsuda who heads off on destructive path fuelled by his insecurities and given vent by boxing. We soon see that Kojima is dragging Tsuda back to level of teens in an attempt to destroy him which is revealed piecemeal in a disturbing story.
Interestingly, Hizuru also has fangs and proves to be quite the independent character instead of being just eye-candy. As the film slowly reveals through conversations and behaviour, Hizuru and Tsuda have a complex history of their own which we see alongside the unfolding of Kojima’s hatred and motivation. Hizuru also physically changes, so while the men get muscles from training, she takes to marking her own body by getting piercings and tattoos. She continually surprises both men throughout the film as conventional relationships (male-female, junior-senior) are undermined, something the city of Tokyo encourages them to do through its indifferent and inhuman environment.
The actors are intense. They physically go from respectable and normal looking to shattered human beings. All three are brilliant and convincing and it is because of them that we follow their story no matter how brutal. This is a demonstration of pure psychological horror as hatred drives all three characters into a destructive frenzy that envelops everything. This allows Tsukamoto to treat us to his love of body-horror.
While boxing is a common subject for a sport film I would wager that few films are as intense and brutal as Tokyo Fist. All of that visceral body-horror and bravura visual displays that Tsukamoto is known for is here. There are numerous scenes involving intense boxing where the camera is floating around the pugilists, switching between first person and close-ups as we witness punches accompanied by the exaggerated sounds of blows landing and heavy breathing. The camera shakes with every punch, and it ducks and weaves around the ring. The violence is a mixture of brute realism where punches and a person ramming their heading into a wall have meaty but dull sounds to over exaggerated fierce yelling, face bursting, bone crushing punches rarely seen outside of anime. Faces get deformed, blood spurts out everywhere, scenery is destroyed as the sounds of punching and rage are heightened and people are left looking absolutely hideous thanks to the detailed make-up. The most intense, hate-fuelled blows are usually dramatically lit and shot in slow-motion so we can see every detail from the cheeks wobbling to the jet spray of blood, a scream of agony extending for the duration.
This is also a film about psychological scars and so the same startling visual and aural violence is meted out as the extreme locations and lighting displays a character’s psychological distress and the effects that the city may have. There are numerous moments when we witness medium close-ups and tracking shots of a character drifting through Tokyo’s less salubrious parts, looking bloody and battered, then our view will suddenly waver and shake violently as if the camera is being throttled and thrown around. For fans of Tsukamoto’s stop motion, it makes an entrance in the most intense sequence in the final ten minutes where the film becomes a hideously grotesque display of the bodies capacity to shed blood and take a mauling.
Overall, this is a tough movie and the ending left me feeling quite desolate. Few films capture the transformative power of anger and hatred as well as this and few films are as energetic and inventive in displaying that and violence in general.
I have one other live-action film that was released by Manga and that one was the brilliant Survive Style 5+. While that DVD came packed with a making of documentary and interviews, this one is rather lacking. The trailers for the film and Manga’s other previews are nice enough but they add very little. The booklet contains a mini-review of the film and doubles as a poster which looks like the DVD case.