Tsukamoto: Killing, Haze & Adventures of Electric Rod Boy (Japan, 2018/2005/1988)

Asian cult cinema distributor Third Window Films has put together a limited-edition Blu-ray comprised of three films by legendary cult director Shinya Tsukamoto – Killing, Haze and Adventures of Electric Rod Boy. Each is very different, but all are worth watching. The two-disc set includes an interview with Tsukamoto and audio commentaries for each film by Tom Mes, author of Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto.

Killing is Tsukamoto’s most recent work and his first samurai film. It follows young samurai Mokunoshin (Sosuke Ikematsu) who is boarding in a small farming village when approached by ronin (master-less samurai) Sawamura (Tsukamoto) looking to form a group to fight for the shogun in Edo. Before they can leave, a gang sets up on the outskirts of the village, causing trouble that escalates in the death of a young farmer’s son who Mokunoshi had befriended. Killing is beautifully shot with the backdrop of the serene farming village glaringly at odds with the violence that eventually befalls those who live there. The action is slow to build, with most of the “fighting” comprised of sparring between Mokunoshin and the farmer’s son, who worships the ground the young samurai walks on. The climactic clash between the gang and the samurai is quite bloody, with Mokunoshin proving to be completely ineffectual. We eventually discover that both Mokunoshin and Sawamura are not necessarily who they present themselves to be.

Haze is a very unsettling film about a man (Tsukamoto) who wakes to find himself trapped in a dark, tight concrete maze-like structure with no memory of how he got there or why he is there. Possibly drugged and bleeding from a wound to his abdomen, the unfortunate man slowly makes his way around the confined spaces, discovering other people suffering various punishments, including a woman surrounded by floating corpses. He attempts to find a way out with the woman in tow, but the effort appears completely fruitless. Haze is a visually dark film (at times too dark to the point of being frustrating) and highly claustrophobic. The scenes of punishment and torture are brutal and uncomfortable to watch, while a distinct lack of dialogue adds to the somber atmosphere. Tsukamoto took a disorienting nightmare scenario and effectively made it worse than you could possibly imagine. Trapped and slowly bleeding to death with no memory makes for a very disturbing 49 minutes.

Adventures of Electric Rod Boy is a weird film that pre-dates Tsukamoto’s breakthrough Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) by two years but is clearly a precursor to the infamous industrial cyberpunk trilogy. Hikari is a boy bullied by classmates because he has an electricity rod growing out of his back, but he has an ally in Momo and she defends him from the bullies. Hikari shows Momo a time machine and inadvertently transports himself to a time 25 years in the future. Tokyo has fallen into very dark times, having been taken over by a gang of Shinsengumi vampires. The three vampires wish to solidify their hold on Tokyo while getting stronger, so they hatch a plan involving a young virgin and a weird machine that culminates in a nuclear reaction. The plan doesn’t go as intended and Hikari, with the help of an older teacher try to save the city from the vampires. If you are a fan of the Tetsuo films, then you will enjoy Adventures of Electric Rod Boy. It is classic Tsukamoto cyberpunk storytelling, with enough sexual innuendo to be comparable to early pink films. The acting is over-the-top, making for some very memorable characters. Clocking in at just 47 minutes, it makes a fast-paced ride, although some scenes get a bit too chaotic, making it difficult, at times, to keep the story straight. Adventures 0f Electric Rod Boy is totally bonkers, but it’s fun to watch. Long-time admirers of Tsukamoto will certainly enjoy this package.

‘Tsukamoto’ will be released on April 27 by Third Window Films.