A welcome reissue for a film that has seen little distribution save a short release on VHS many years ago, Bullet Ballet has been remastered and re-released on Blu-ray with approval from its creator Shinya Tsukamoto.
Life is never black and white, even if it is depicted as such in modern Tokyo, where business and violence collide in the choice of aesthetically relevant black and white film stock that reflects the protagonists’ characters and their situations – situations that have developed through both location and circumstance. Salaryman Goda (Shinya Tsukamoto) is coming to terms with the suicide of his girlfriend Kiriko (Kyôka Suzuki), whom he had known, or so he thought, for a decade. He becomes connected with a gang, notably through his interactions with Chisato (Kirina Mano), a girl who Goda initially thinks he has saved from being hit by a train in the subway, even if she did bite his hand hard enough to scar him. Kiriko’s suicide was by a self-inflicted bullet to the head and Goda is determined to understand this, even if he needs to engage in gang violence and obtain a gun of his own, an objective that is very difficult to achieve in Japan. Goda generates a new set of life goals that take him into a bizarre and shocking world of tension and violence between criminal organisations, some of whose members are, despite their savage bravado, as part of the menial contemporary business community as Goda.
As Tsukamoto mentions in the interviews that accompany the home release of Bullet Ballet, his film was influenced by a contemporary trend, exploring the world of ‘Teamers’, ordinary salarymen by day, who would go to the Shibuya district at night to join violent gangs, but return to work the following morning dressed in company approved suits. Bullet Ballet works on a number of levels in that it deals with the issues of young businessmen as well as gangs, but also in the way that Tsukamoto masterfully combines his own techniques and cinematic style with a redefinition of the perspectives depicted in older films in a manner that is distinctly modern and yet also embraces the past. He uses a deliberately black and white aesthetic but also explores the resurgence of the kind of 1960’s and 1970’s violent gangster movies using the backdrop of the economic boom. Indeed suits and general dress styles are central to the characterisation as gang apparel is replaces sharp suits following the protagonists’ daily work obligations, the only apparent connection lies with the coiffure of the gang, notably with Gado’s arch rival Goto’s (Takahiro Murase) distinctive sideburns. Bullet Ballet followed Tokyo Fist (1995), and elements of that film can be seen, notably in the brief boxing scenes portrayed here, but this is a film that deals primarily with wider social issues than the more personal relationships in some of his other contemporary set films such as A Snake of June (2002) or the also wonderful and disturbing Kotoko(2011).
The combination of Tsukamoto’s trademark claustrophobic camerawork coupled with distinctive and immersive editing juxtaposes the normal with the familiar, ensuring that shots which have compositional similarity alter in their relevance due to their placing in the story. The plot also has thematic links to war, not only in the multiple gang conflicts and Goda’s situation but also with the editing of stock footage into the narrative to accentuate the use of guns and the results of such use. Drug culture is also addressed – sex and drugs are a part of the violent gun-toting world of Tokyo’s Teamers, with the use of specific amphetamines enhancing some of the war perspectives of the street conflicts and the actual war footage depicting gun culture from the past. But this is war as cultural wealthy salaryman fun, albeit a form of fun that is sadistic and cruel, as well as linked with the genuine criminal fraternity.
Another energetic, emotional, tightly edited film that is hip and controversial, Bullet Ballet drives at a blistering beat and shoots in all the right directions – art and action, entertainment and emotion.