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  Electric Dragon 80000V An Illuminating Experience
Year: 2001
Director: Gakuryû Ishii
Stars: Tadanobu Asano, Masatoshi Nagase, Masakatsu Funaki, Yoshiki Arizono
Genre: Science Fiction, Weirdo, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The legends of dragons have it that they died out many centuries ago, if they existed at all, but what if one man had it in him to channel the power of the mighty reptiles in the present day? One man who will come to be known as Dragon Eye Morrison (Tadanobu Asano), for when he was a child he attempted to climb an electricity pylon and in the process part of the way to the top was struck with a bolt of energy that changed his life forever. He found from that day on that he could use this power to give himself a super punch, so whenever bullies would pick on him he sent them flying with his fists, something experimented on by scientists who only served to make him stronger...

In case you haven't guessed, we were in Japanese cyberpunk territory once again, a genre that often worked in black and white when it was in live action as if to pay tribute to the daddy (if not the grandaddy) of the concept of low budget science fiction in that vein, Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man which was seen by all the right people to create a movement in the style, or if not all the right people at least all those who thought, hey, I could do that just as well. Whether they could or not was a moot point as it did lead to a bunch of Japanese overacting and screaming through makeshift effects, makeup and sets which was not everyone's idea of a great night out at the pictures, and indeed a cult following was all that resulted.

In the case of director Gakuryû Ishii, here billed as he was for his first few efforts as Ishii Sogo, he was rewarded with a small but loyal band of admirers for his work on Electric Dragon 80000V and other, "punk" movies, and he did have an undeniable way with the camera to convey the sheer kinetic energy of his characters and scenes. That said, a preoccupation with electricity aside there wasn't much to distinguish what he was up to here from what Tsukamoto crafted in his groundbreaking debut, so much so that it looked as if Ishii was making a slavish copy, in spite of them actually being contemporaries operating in parallel - indeed, Tsukamoto could be said to be following Ishii's lead. The shots of Morrison zooming through the streets of Tokyo were now hard to separate from Tetsuo, however.

Not to mention the twisted superhero rivalry that erupts between Morrison and his nemesis, an equally electricity-obsessed engineer called Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase) who is distinguished by a mask that covers half of his face, the right half, and a metallic right hand as well. Instead of unleashing arcs of lightning from his fists like boxer turned reptile detective Morrison does, the Buddha has a couple of self-devised weapons to deliver his wrath, but essentially they have the same superpowers, it's simply a matter of who implements them the better. Our hero becomes noble by dint of two aspects separating him from the villain: he's kind to animals, those lizards, and he loves rock and roll, playing his own electric (of course) guitar in various locations, apparently powered by his own body.

The sight of a superhero with an axe in hand, pounding out the noisy power chords is such a potent one that it's mildly surprising Marvel didn't include it in half their productions once their mania for franchises got underway, but leave it to the Japanese to tap into the cultural consciousness in that respect. Similar to Wild Zero, another rock-flavoured sci-fi flick, the proof of the protagonist's ability is in his talent with a guitar, but if he has a weakness, it's because he cares too much goddammit, a flaw that the Buddha exploits by basically winding him up until he lashes out. That's it, the bad guy doesn't especially wish to take over the world or any of that conventional stuff, he simply wanted to make Morrison mad enough to get into a fight with him. That we have no doubt how this will turn out, the victor obvious for a number of reasons set in stone in the superhero format, speaks to a more clichéd deployment of what on the surface was a fairly out there plot, so best to sit back and enjoy the rock music (by Hiroyuki Onogawa) and sparky visuals, which were most important anyway.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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