Tuesday, April 03, 2007

964 Pinocchio

The opening montage to Shojin Fukui’s 964 Pinocchio, consisting as it does of rapid cross-cutting between a sterile hospital corridor, a badly-lit lobotomy and a lesbian sex romp, is perfectly conducive to setting the tone of what is a suitably bizarre film. Like a hyperactive kid fed a vat of speed, this introduction establishes the sense of relentless acceleration that exemplifies the visual tempo maintained throughout the film, a little known Japanese gem from 1991.

Released from the hospital suffering from untreatable amnesia, Himiko takes it upon herself to map the streets to alleviate the need for a functioning memory. It is whilst perched by a lamppost, scrutinising the full geometric scope of her endeavour, that she runs into the mysterious Pinocchio, a young man, seemingly mute and bald save for an erect tuft of hair protruding from the summit of his skull. Seeing his childlike helplessness, she takes him home and plays mama, teaching him his name (syllable by syllable), taking him shopping, disciplining him via a brisk slap to the temple – all good parental duties ticked-off. Meanwhile, all of this is inter-cut with a host of sordid sex goings-on and the cryptic actions of some ne’er-do-wells. We can only assume that the two are somehow connected.

Following an alarming incident back home involving Pinocchio, a bucket-load of yellow pus and some disjointed editing, Himiko ends up running around the city, vomiting repeatedly and screaming perpetually. As Pinocchio lapses into mad spasms featuring oodles of multicoloured gunk flowing forth from his face, and Himiko becomes progressively more and more deranged, the narrative descends into utter lightning-paced insanity.

Fukui is clearly indebted to Tetsuo: The Iron Man – that classic of cinematic cyberpunk surreality. Preserving an aesthetic of fast cuts, hand-held cameras and grainy images, he overloads 964 Pinocchio with all the traits we’ve come to associate with Tsukamoto’s early genius (along with subsequent examples of the subgenre like, for instance, the delightful Electric Dragon 80,000V). Prolonged excursions of sprinting across the cityscape are particularly receptive for alignment with the aforementioned influence – Himiko’s spew-scream jog is an extended exercise in spiralling dementia that occupies the screen for an age, and later on we get Pinocchio doing his own dash, dragging a triangular cinderblock past gawking on-lookers. The sort of frenzied close-ups that preceded Aronofsky by years also get a strong workout here.

Unsurprisingly, it appears that Pinocchio is mechanically constructed – thus the name ya see, how clever. Never fully divulged in the narrative, all signs point to his creation at the hands of some surgical instruments. But Frankenstein rarely enters into the lexicon these days – this is all similarities to Guinea Pig 5: Android of Notre Dame, in style, budget and era.

These cyberpunk films, 964 Pinocchio and its ilk, always seem to come accessorised with a helping of technological and urban decay. Imbued with blank concrete surfaces, sinister shots of telephone pylons and an unequivocally malevolent techno-science agency behind all the craziness, this film is that very vision of alienation within modernity. Read through analogies concerning theoretical chitchat, these representations of negativity could be seen as a rebuttal to the utopian discourse espoused by the likes of Marshall McLuhan regarding the potentialities of unbounded mass communication on the human race, the world as village, etc. Rather, here we discern a perspective painted in pessimistic shades, more like the writings of, say, Paul Virilio, or the recently deceased Jean Baudrillard.

But then again, how does that account for someone ripping their own face off and morphing into a big Moon-Head?

Who knows? – Maybe nothing, maybe everything. Regardless, 964 Pinocchio’s ending does not undo the fun-packed wackiness that preceded it, for this cake certainly has a cherry, a very strange and ambiguous one that smells faintly of ‘what the hell was that all about?’ Drawing parallels to the jarring finale to Dead or Alive, it shouldn’t be the case that what occurs is unexpected (the entire picture can be ascribed with those terms), but it nevertheless still arrives like a head-butt from the shadows. Not only does the action take place in an environment not dissimilar to the barren Canadian wastes that house the climatic events of Scanners, but both seem to share the same perplexing act of character unification. Only the Cronenberg film did not have a comely secretary freaking out in sexual ecstasy nearby – and therein lies the joy of such a film as this, the wonderfully perverse embellishments that only the Japanese can seem to dish out.


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