As a film, Electric Dragon 80.000 V is a bizarre onslaught of sound and fury. As a Japanese film, it’s not that out of the ordinary. With the precedent’s set by films like Tetsuo, Akira, and Wild Zero the frantic antics of Electric Dragon 80.000 V don’t seem quite as insane.
Sogo Ishii’s film is more like a poem than prose. It grabs on to a few themes and shakes them furiously in your face. Electric Dragon 80.000 V is 90% style and 10% content, but the style is intense enough and creative enough to keep you engaged.
The plot centers around two young men who have strange electrical superpowers. Neither of them seems to fully understand their abilities or themselves. Both of them suffer from intense inner conflicts. The movie sort of adds up to four characters ie. two men both of whom have two different personalities. These two men then find themselves not only in conflict within themselves but with each other. Its conflict and opposites compounded. The film is torn in two and propelled forward by the oppositional polarities of electricity.
The pacing and force of the film are relentless. There is maybe a total of 50 words in the entire film and half of them are just screamed announcements by an offscreen narrator. The narrator sounds like a wrestling mc, and when he speaks, hand-drawn text blasts across the screen.
The first of the two men is Morrison, a tormented soul who tries to soothe his anger by wrestling with his electric guitar. The chaotic sounds he strangles out of it may be turbulent and distorted but they are compelling. The whole roaring, thumping soundtrack is not unlike an album by Guitar Wolf. If there was a soundtrack available I would buy it.
The other character is Thunderbolt Buddha who is half-man and half golden buddha statue. The costume is impressive. Thunderbolt Buddha uses his electrical powers to fight organized crime. Morrison uses his to save lost reptiles. He’s like a private detective for lizards. The town proves too small for these two tortured superheroes and so they duke it out on the rooftops of Tokyo. Their physical conflict mimics their internal conflicts. For Thunder Buddha, his buddha half is trying to electrocute and possibly kill his human half. The character gets to have several Evil Dead Two-style fights with his own body.
Morrison’s conflict seems more like a struggle to contain his anger. He tries boxing but he is too aggressive even for that. Both men feel like tragic figures tortured by forces that are out of their control, much like Tetsuo. They all seem to center around modernity and technology. The characters become supper charged and powerful but it wreaks havoc on their mind and body.
The monsters and unpredictable results of modernity are a constant touchstone in Japanese film, and in their art in general. When modernity announces itself with two atomic explosions killing more than 200,000 people it only makes sense that the Japanese might have some trepidation about technology and the future. At the same time, Electric Dragon 80.000 V is neither shy nor tentative. It is itself, an explosion of power and rage, but is framed in a revelatory abandon that makes the whole film hard to resist.
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