July 2017


Burst City, Halber Mensch
and the other films of
Gakuryu “Shogo” Ishii
Article By: Janet E. Hammer

The film Burst City is a full-fledged visual experience for both the eyes and the ears. Many people will compare it to the film Tetsuo: The Iron Man which received more exposure in the United States. In reality it should be classified as the inspiration because Burst City was released in 1982 and Tetsuo in 1989. Tetsuo would be the first time most of us saw the Japanese “Cyber Punk” genre, in which there are characters made with as much metal as skin. The film Burst City though is a blend of Cyber Punk and Punk starring Japanese bands; the Roosters, the Rockers, the Stalin and Inu. Like most of Ishii’s early films it is extremely frenetic, with something happening in every moment of the film with little to few still moments. There are two groups in the film, the Bikers who are mostly poor and many using the metal left from the industrial area where they live to either reinforce or fix themselves. The Bands also living in the industrial area of town (albeit a slightly less oily area) are it seems at war with each other to claim the title of the best band. Everyone though is at war with the companies who want to come into this area and reclaim it and change it to better fit their pocketbooks. There are fights, battle of the bands and guerrilla warfare where groups literally come on stage and steal instruments and the stage from whomever is playing on it at the time. It is one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen, even amongst other “Punk Rock” films that concentrate on strictly the music of some of my favorite bands. You can find copies on Amazon and Ebay for a reasonable price but do so quickly because the latest release went out of print recently. This film and filmmaker changed the fabric of Japanese film and brought about a new era and style still associated largely with Japan.

The next film I will go into is the documentary of the band Einsturzende Neubauten titled Halber Mensch. Filmed in Japan during the tour for the album of the same name in 1985, Ishii would combine concert footage with his signature style of deteriorating industry and landscape. Many of the scenes take place in buildings falling apart leaving just the bare bones of the structure. It is a stroke of genius for a music which creates much of the sound using found industrial objects. It has been a cult film for fans of Einsturzende Neubauten for decades now. The film contains footage of the height of their creative sound. The initial video which would be played on MTV and Night Flight for the song ZNS came from this film. The use of a uniquely Japanese artform known as Butoh, which is a form of dance that fits in with the music in an oddly perfect way. It was originally only available on VHS but has since been released on DVD in 2005. You can also find parts if not the entire movie online on You Tube as well as other streaming websites.

Shogo Ishii has also been a creator of music in bands such as Mach 1.67 (who provided the soundtrack for the short film Electric Dragon 80.000 V), Safari and Peace Pill. He has also continued to be an innovator of film in Japan. Which such titles as Angel Dust, Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle popular here in the United States and many more in Japan he has continued to be an innovator. He was also one of 60 filmmakers from around the world who made 1 minute films for a project called 60 Seconds of Solitude in the Year Zero that was shown once in Estonia in 2011 which gave voice to the director and the death of Cinema. Some of the others involved were Park, Chan-wook (Oldboy), Jorge Michel Grau (We Are What We Are), Brian Yuzna (Society), Adam Wingard (V/H/S), Tom Tykwer (Run Lola, Run) and others representing all corners of the globe. This was developed as 35mm event to preserving the freedom of thought in cinema and the loss of it. The film and screen were burned immediately following the end of the showing suggesting how fast things can be lost. He continues to be and take part, show what and how film can change the face of society and the individual. I suggest you find and watch as many of his films as you can but I understand some of you are more moved by music than film. I offer the suggestion of these two movies that combine both, to make a statement not only on life but how music helps to keep us going.

Dazed the Film on Facebook