Bullet Ballet (1998) – By Duane L. Martin

I’ve only had limited experience with director Tsukamoto Shinya’s work. This is the third movie of his that I’ve seen, the other two being Tetsuo the Iron Man and Hiruko the Goblin. Hiruko the Goblin was an outstanding film that had some genuine scares and some really creepy monsters. I love Hiruko, and I’ve watched it many times. On the other hand, Tetsuo the Iron Man made me want to track Shinya down and beat a refund out of him. It was nothing but a disjointed pile of trash shot in grainy black and white that made no sense whatsoever and really had no point to it at all. This film, Bullet Ballet, isn’t horrible, but it isn’t great either. It falls somewhere between ok and stupid, leaning more towards stupid.

There were many things wrong with this film, and I’ll cover all those before I get to what was right about it…since that’s a much shorter list. The first thing that was wrong is that he shot it in black and white, just like he did with Tetsuo the Iron Man. As with Tetsuo, this didn’t make the film look any more artistic, it just made it annoying on a level that I can’t really explain. I think it was because the intention was to make it artsy, and that’s what annoyed me the most. Unlike Tetsuo, it’s not really an artsy film, so to resort to using black and white film to shoot it was basically pointless, and to some small degree, distracting. There was no reason not to shoot this film in color, and in fact it would have probably evoked a better reaction from the viewer if it had been.

The next problem, and this is the biggest problem I have with this film, is that these are supposed to be more or less typical “types” of people, and yet, not one person in this film really acts like a normal person would act, and they don’t react to things the way a normal person would either. The main character Gota (Shinya Tsukamoto), is an advertising exec whose long time girlfriend just committed suicide in his apartment by shooting herself in the head. He gets upset about it and falls into a state of depression, which is normal enough, but then he becomes obsessed with finding a gun of his own. After he’s ripped off by one guy and fails to find any real leads anywhere else, he’s eventually tracked down by a woman who offers him a gun in exchange for him marrying her so she can stay in the country legally. He does, and manages to score his gun. Then he goes nuts with it and there’s a whole montage of him messing around with it trying to act like a badass.

All the while that this was going on, he had been repeatedly beaten and mugged by a gang that had a rather insane and somewhat suicidal girl in it that he had saved from being hit by a train. He got a bite on the hand for his trouble, which by the way matched the bite she had put on her own hand, but that’s another story. This gang beats on him repeatedly and at one point he takes a homemade gun that he had put together and tries to shoot a couple of them with it. The gun works but the bullets he made don’t, and all they manage to do is sting a little…which leads to him getting another beating.

Once he got a real gun, he started trying to protect the girl. There was a gang fight and he got himself in the middle of it chasing the other gang away with his gun, but the only thing he got in return was a club in the head from the girl and a stolen gun, which was now in the hands of one of the gang members. They actually drove him home after that. The whole thing was really stupid and the story as a whole was just mind numbingly dumb. Mercifully, the movie is only 87 minutes long, so at least you don’t have to suffer for too long.

Now despite all the film’s shortcomings, there are actually a few good things to say about it. The first thing I need to mention is the cinematography and the editing. This film was basically a cavalcade of nightmarish imagery and there were scenes that would have fit just as well in a horror movie as they did in this one. The other thing that was good about it was the violence. There was a decent amount of good old fashioned violence, mostly of the gang beating variety, that were fun to watch, and some of the quirky characters involved made it even more so. As an example, one guy in the gang who was a heroin addict was actually talking on his cell phone during the big gang fight telling whoever was on the other end what a bunch of pussies the other gang was. This film was not without its interesting characters, I just wish the actions of the characters had been more believable.

I know that Shinya Tsukamoto is not without his fans, and there’s probably people who would think that this film is nothing short of brilliant. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. I really wanted to care about at least some of the characters in this film, but to be honest, there wasn’t a single person in this film that I really gave a damn about at all. Even the poor guy who’s girlfriend committed suicide came off as more of an idiot than as the sympathetic character that he was supposed to be. Without anyone to care about, a film is nothing more and a series of images that doesn’t really involve the viewer on any more than a generic visual level, and that’s just not enough to make it worth watching.

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