Bullet Ballet Movie Review
Goda (Shinya Tsukamoto), a mild-tempered Tokyo ad executive, has lost his love. While he was busy building his career, she was busy building a double life in the dark underbelly of the urban gangland of drugs, violence, and prostitution. And as Goda's career was on the rise, his girlfriend's life slipped beyond his grasp. Confused and alone, the ad exec drops out of his comfortable world on an obsessive search for the same fate.
Obsessed with finding the same gun that his girlfriend used in her suicide, Goda turns to the only source he can think of: the same psychotic, Clockwork Orange-esque gang that drove his girlfriend to her death. In his quest for his own death, Goda finds an unlikely ally in the equally suicidal -- though considerably more disturbed -- Chisato (Kirina Mano), a speed-freak femme fatale on a trajectory identical to that of his dead lover.
Shot entirely in black and white, Bullet Ballet is a dizzying, brutal film. Tsukamoto uses free-hand camera work and fast (sometimes too fast) edits to pulse-quickening effect, lending the movie a frantic pace that overcomes the story's inexplicable turns surprisingly well.
Bullet Ballet is more ballet than bullets. Even as the barrage of quick cuts and disturbing close-ups propels the action forward, all this fancy editing really masks the fact that the actual action content is relatively slim. Aside from a few well executed chase scenes, most of the film's action revolves around a few fairly repetitive back-alley fight scenes that resist the force of boredom through sheer brutality.
But it's psychological drama that keeps this movie going. As the unassuming Goda, Tsukamoto is a sympathetic everyman, naïve enough to buy our compassion but twisted enough by his downward spiral to keep us guessing at his next move. Meanwhile, Mano is hypnotic and eerily sexy as Chisato. While the chemistry between these two is sometimes difficult to accept, Mano's strange mannerisms are disturbing enough to make anything she does seem somehow believable. By story's end, we find ourselves longing to see this unlikely pair united, but Bullet Ballet has something else in store.
Bullet Ballet is a remarkably different cinematic experience from Tsukamoto's 1988 Tetsuo (Iron Man), which had more in common with Billy Idol's horrendously bad 1993 "Cyberpunk" music video than with anything resembling a watchable film. By contrast, Bullet Ballet shows a decidedly more evolved sense of intellectual maturity. No less evocative in its tone and imagery than Tetsuo, Tsukamoto's newer work carves out a more complete sense of the world in which its characters interact. The result is a compelling film that successfully debases the audience's sense of traditional cinematic concepts of good and evil. While not quite as strong as Tsukamoto's 2001 Ichi the Killer, Bullet Ballet is a must-see film for Tsukamoto devotees and noir lovers alike.