Burst City, to me, is not only the name of a film, but also a fairly accurate description of my mind after being confronted by two hours of Ishii Sogo punk rock mayhem. After all, what can synapses do, when faced with such an assault on the senses, but explode? It’s the sensible thing to do.
This is a film that has a reputation for being an important stepping stone in the development of Japanese cinema. It is widely acknowledged as being a major influence on filmmakers such as Tsukamoto Shinya and Miike Takashi. So it’s probably fair to say that it’s an important film…but is it any good? Unfortunately, it just doesn’t hold up too well. While it certainly has its moments, Burst City is probably best viewed as a curiosity piece.
At its most basic level, Burst City is just an extended punk rock concert, followed by an enormous all-in brawl. Just add a mustachioed guy in S&M gear, two mysterious bikers wearing body armour, and futuristic cops who look like rejects from a bad 80s sci-fi movie, and that’s Burst City in a nutshell. Suffice it to say that there isn’t much in the way of a plot. Then again, the point of this film isn’t its narrative or characters. This is a film about music and, perhaps more than that, about attitude, and this is an area in which the film excels – Burst City is rough and raw and drips with so much attitude that you’d better get the umbrella out. This is due in no small part to the appearance in the film of several Japanese punk bands of the day who also provide the excellent soundtrack.
The other area in which Burst City really does well is its visual style – the editing is frenetic, and the frenzied camera work looks like someone with an out-of-control caffeine addiction has been let loose behind the lens. The camera swishes about from place to place, sometimes moving so fast that you are no longer able to distinguish objects – everything becomes a swirling mass of colour. It’s great stuff to look at, if somewhat migraine-inducing, and is indeed reminiscent of something you’d see in a Miike or Tsukamoto film.
But ultimately, there just isn’t enough to sustain the film’s 116 minute runtime. As a filmed record of Japanese punk culture, as a concert film, and as a film that influenced the next generation of extreme Japanese filmmakers, Burst City is a roaring success. But sadly, as something you’d sit down to watch and really enjoy, it doesn’t work quite as well.