June 17, 2009 / Filmwell
Criterion’s May release of Wise Blood (1979, John Huston) makes available the flawed but fascinating artistic meeting of two uncontested American masters, novelist Flannery O’Connor and film maker John Huston.
February 8, 2012
Midnight Eye’s Mark Player has written a fascinating and very in-depth essay on the sub-genre of Japanese cyberpunk cinema and its major figures (e.g., Shinya Tsukamoto, Shozin Fukui), notable films (e.g., Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Electric Dragon 80,000V, Akira, Rubber’s Lover), and themes.
The world of live-action Japanese cyberpunk is a twisted and strange one indeed; a far cry from the established notions of computer hackers, ubiquitous technologies and domineering conglomerates as found in the pages of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) – a pivotal cyberpunk text during the sub-genre’s formation and recognition in the early eighties. From a cinematic standpoint, it perhaps owes more to the industrial gothic of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1976) and the psycho-sexual body horror of early David Cronenberg than the rain-soaked metropolis of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), although Scott’s neon infused tech-noir has been a major aesthetic touchstone for cyberpunk manga and anime institutions such as Katsuhiro Otomo‘s Akira (1982-90) and Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell (1989- ).
In the Western world, cyberpunk was born out of the new wave science fiction literature of the sixties and seventies; authors such Harlan Ellison, J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick – whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) was the basis for Blade Runner – were key proponents in its inception, creating worlds that featured artificial life, social decay and technological dependency. The hard-boiled detective novels of Dashiell Hammett also proved influential with regards to the sub-genre’s overall pessimistic stance. What came to be known as cyberpunk by the mid 1980s was thematically characterised by its exploration of the impact of high-technology on low-lives – people living in squalor; stacked on top of one another within an oppressive metropolis dominated by advanced technologies.
Live-action, Japanese cyberpunk on the other hand, is raw and primal by nature, and characterised by attitude rather than high-concept. A collision between flesh and metal, the sub-genre is an explosion of sex, violence, concrete and machinery; a small collection of pocket-sized universes that revel in post-human nightmares and teratological fetishes, powered by a boundaryless sense of invasiveness and violation. Imagery is abject, perverse and unpredictable and, like Cronenberg’s work, bodily mutation through technological intervention is a major theme, as are dehumanisation, repression and sexuality.
What I find particularly interesting is that Player grounds the genre in a specific time and place, and even as he discusses and praises its boundary-pushing and experimentation, he questions its further relevance given the ubiquity of technology in our lives today. Or, as he puts it:
More than a sub-genre, it tackled the anxieties of the period in ways that conventional expression would fall short. But now that we’re in the technologically dependent twenty-first century – the post-human nightmare now a grim reality – can it still be relevant?