Crazy Thunder Road (Japan, 1980)

Crazy Thunder Road was the punk filmmaker Sogo Ishii’s college graduation project. Toei Studios were so impressed with the film that they picked it up for theatrical distribution.

The film follows the exploits of various biker gangs, but mainly centers on Jin (Tatsuo Yamada), who takes over for Ken (Koji Nanjo) when the latter decides to stop riding and allow the Maboroshi members to join with other gangs to form a larger alliance within the city. Ken wants to settle down with his girlfriend Noriko (Michiko Kitahara) and Jin doesn’t want the gang to join the new alliance, which has them butting heads. While Jin continues to be a thorn in the side of the alliance, a nationalist group is busy trying to recruit former bikers to their cause. Jin and a few of his followers join the group but quickly get tired of it and leave. Now Jin has both the bikers’ alliance and the nationalists after him.

As a cyberpunk film, Crazy Thunder Road is an early example of a trend of movies from the 1970s and 1980s, while it contains elements reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Warriors (1979), and Mad Max (1979). It’s wonderfully chaotic and violent, as well as being quite over the top, at times. Although it lags a bit in the second act as Jin undergoes training and indoctrination by the nationalists, the proceedings regain their first-act madness in the lead up to a riotously satisfying finale. The fight scenes are frenetic and made even more intense by tight framing. Also impressive is the fact that no one was paid for their work on the movie, including the extras who were mostly real gang members.

There isn’t a single likeable character in Crazy Thunder Road, but this is what makes it so interesting.Ken has become weak in his relationship with Noriko, and the scenes involving the two together are almost comical. He is passive in the face of the adversity and confusion that is taking place around him. Takeshi (Shigeru Izumiya) is the leader of the nationalists who was once a friend of Ken’s. He is militant in his attempts to turn Jin to his ideology, and hell bent on punishing Jin when he leaves the group. Takeshi becomes obsessed and pulls out all the stops to get his revenge. Jin is a cold, fiercely individual hard-ass who moves to the beat of his own drummer. He is frustrating, but entertaining, and truly committed to his own ideology and lifestyle. While unlikeable, Jin becomes someone to cheer on. He is anarchistic and defiant despite the turbulence and danger around him.

Crazy Thunder Road is not one of Sogo Ishii’s best films, but it’s definitely worth watching. It is not only highly entertaining, but also an important example of independent filmmaking with its themes of independence, rebellion, and anti-authoritarianism.

Crazy Thunder Road will be available on Blu-ray from February 21 from Third Window Films.