Bullet Ballet バルットバレエ Dir: Shinya Tsukamoto (2000)

Bullet Ballet                                                  Bullet Ballet Film Poster

バルットバレエ 「Barutto Baree

Release Date: March 11th, 2000

Duration: 87 mins.

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto

Starring: Shinya Tsukamoto, Kirina Mano, Tomorowo Taguchi, Tatsuya Nakamura, Kyoka Suzuki, Hisashi Igawa, Takahiro Murase, Keisuke Yoshida, Hiromi Kuronuma

When you say bullet ballet I think of Hong Kong gun-play movies the likes of which made John Woo famous. That isn’t the case here with this Shinya Tsukamoto film which is distinctly him as it features a visual and aural style reminiscent of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (even shot in black and white) but closer in tone to the existential enquiries of A Snake of June and Tokyo Fist.

Shinya Tsukamoto takes the lead role of Goda, a thirty-something filmmaker working in advertising. His work aside, life is absolutely average – long hours at the office, drinks after work, an equally busy girlfriend named Kiriko. They have been with each other for a decade but never committed to marrying because they are both pursuing careers. No surprises. No detours. No shocks. That is until Goda returns home one night to find police cars and ambulances surrounding the entrance to his apartment building. Kiriko has committed suicide with a gun.

With Japan having some of the strictest gun control laws in the world not only is Goda left with the yawning, black hole of a question”why” behind Kiriko’s suicide, but also “how”, “where” and “who”. How did Kiriko get a gun in the first place? From where? And from who?

Goda, shaken out of his existence by Kiriko’s death develops a death-wish of his own as he rakes over those questions and so he enters the gritty criminal underworld of Tokyo in search of a gun.

As Goda descends from his middle-class existence the locations caught on camera fall into Tsukamoto’s familiar depiction of urban nightmare of anonymous streets lined with chain-link fences, dank alleys, underpasses and overpasses. It is here he finds ruthless hustlers and thugs hopped up on speed and gets sucked into a gang war.

A lot of the aesthetic style and content is recognisable from earlier films like the Tetsuo duo as Bullet Ballet does a little body horror with blood on splattering a concrete environment with macabre images and montages of real-world violence. For the fights, Tsukamoto raises the intensity with lots of erratic handheld camerawork, flashing lights and sudden zooms, sparks flying and an aggressive soundscape where percussion plays a huge part, from sudden screams and yells to the click of a gun’s trigger and Chu Ishikawa’s score, a nightmarish din of musique-concrete and clattering drums.

Tsukamoto fans will be in familiar territory while newbies will doubtless be left a little panicked but where the film differs, and becomes captivating, is the type of horror on display: the real horror isn’t necessarily the violence but an existential dread of a nihilistic existence. At different points in the narrative, people feel that without routine or a reason such as a career or kids or a lover, their existence is meaningless and the future becomes uncertain, pointless, scary. Once that realisation sets in for Goda, he understands why Kiriko committed suicide.

To get to that understanding, he meets Chisato (Kirina Mano), his mirror image and a fearless woman running with the street gang who exhibits a similar death wish but is actually able to verbalise the fear driving it. She acts as a muse for him, making the death wish beautiful but her honesty are the most moving moments as she gives vent to how lost she feels. Their conversations and wordless wandering around the urban landscape of Tokyo and amidst the sea of people before the final arc of violence is shot in soft tones with some poetic visuals for some moving soul searching and Chu Ishikawa’s score chills out for some beautiful moments.

Ultimately this is a solid Tsukamoto film and it actually acts as a bridge for A Snake of June as people ponder big issues and the body horror is toned down.

(I’m sure the music used at the end of Nightmare Detective can be heard in a chase scene)

4 thoughts on “Bullet Ballet バルットバレエ Dir: Shinya Tsukamoto (2000)

      1. I like VITAL a lot. If I had to choose in Tsukamoto’s filmography, I would say that BULLET BALLET and TOKYO FIST are my favourite ones. Then TETSUO… But I’m a huge fan of almost all his movies. Did you see his last one, ZAN, ? It’s, once again, a real Tsukamoto’s movie. Not a chanbara – at least not as expected. I loved it.

      2. I really like Tokyo Fist as well! That is in my top three.

        I haven’t watched Zan yet. I’m not surprised to hear that it’s not your average chanbara. I am eager to see it. I might add it to a list of films to buy when I next go to Japan.

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