Review for Tokyo Fist
I have this view of cult movies, that they should be grubby, worn out things. It’s no doubt a result of my youth watching such films on third generation VHS copies passed around the school playground, or in university cinema clubs on film that had been through the projector a few hundred times too many. Even the official VHS releases, and later the first DVD releases of such films would be sourced from well worn and creaky masters. You should have seen my first purchase of David Lynch’s Dune on DVD, which looked worse than the version I had meticulously taped off a television broadcast. Somewhere I developed the impression that it wasn’t a real cult movie if it wasn’t afflicted with print damage and years of accumulated dirt. But now we’re in the high definition Blu-ray age, where such things really aren’t acceptable anymore. Now even cult movies are getting the full restoration treatment that once was only the province of the Hollywood classics.
Last year, Third Window Films went and released the definitive edition of the Tetsuo movies, with transfers overseen by director Shinya Tsukamoto himself. I have to admit that my preconceptions about cult movies didn’t last long in the face of just how shiny and watchable the new prints were. Tetsuo isn’t all, as Shinya Tsukamoto has taken the opportunity to go back and oversee the restoration of the Bullet Ballet and Tokyo Fist negatives as well. Third Window Films will be bringing the Blu-ray of Bullet Ballet based on that restoration next month, a title I am particularly looking forward to, but they begin by releasing Tokyo Fist on Blu-ray, a film that was last released here on DVD 9 years ago by Manga Entertainment.
Tsuda is a salaryman, a hard working insurance salesman who specialises in selling safety and security to his firm’s clients. His home life is just as safe and secure, living as he does with his girlfriend Hizuru. All of that changes when he meets an old school friend named Kojima. Kojima is a boxer, something that is an obvious contrast to the soft and sedate salaryman, and it seems that Kojima’s insistence on renewing their friendship is just ulterior motives to get close to Hizuru. That attention reveals a previously unseen obsessive and controlling side to Tsuda, but when the inevitable happens, and Hizuru leaves Tsuda for Kojima, Tsuda determines to become a boxer himself, and get his revenge on Kojima.
Tokyo Fist gets a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer at the 1080p resolution. The transfer itself is without issue, without glitches, visible compression or digital banding. It looks like an accurate representation of the original source material. That source material has had a really sympathetic restoration applied, with dirt and damage wholly absent, but with the filmic nature of grain, and a slight occasional wobble to the print still apparent. The quality of the image is then limited by the quality of the source material, and by and large that comes across with clarity and with strong colour reproduction. Some scenes may be a little softer, and in darker scenes there is a comparative lack of clarity, a reduction in detail, while in other scenes it seems as if the exposure is a little high, with detail washed out. That’s all an issue with the source, and minutiae for cinephiles to debate. As a general viewing experience, I doubt that Tokyo Fist has ever looked as good.
The images in this review are kindly supplied by Third Window Films, and may not be representative of the final retail release.
You get a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Japanese audio track with optional English subtitles. The dialogue is clear throughout; the music comes across with clarity, as does the film’s appropriately oppressive sound design. While it is a predominantly centralised affair, the clarity afforded by an HD soundtrack is certainly worthwhile, and there are no issues with glitches or dropouts on the disc. The only issue that I can flag up is a typo in a subtitle at 38:32, where ‘thing’ should be ‘think’. There are a few more typos in the subtitles for the extra features though, although not enough to lose the meaning of what is being said.
The film is presented on this disc with an animated menu screen.
On the disc the most substantial extra is the interview with director Shinya Tsukamoto, split into three parts. About Tokyo Fist lasts 18 minutes, and obviously he talks about the film, the messages that he was trying to convey, as well as casting himself and his brother in the lead roles. About Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet lasts 3½ minutes and looks at the commonalities between the two films, and General Thoughts (4 mins) looks at the restoration process that has been applied to his early films to bring them to the digital generation. These are presented in 1080i 60Hz.
You get a 4 minute music video that features music from the film, presented in 1080p pillarboxed, but obviously up-scaled from a video source.
The original Japanese trailer lasts 44 seconds and is presented in 480i letterboxed, while the UK trailer is 1080p widescreen and lasts 2½ minutes.
Rocky it most certainly is not, and it’s not exactly Fight Club either. In fact, Tokyo Fist is much more than either of these films. It’s certainly no celebrant of the pugilistic arts, and this is in no way a glorification of violence, however violent this film may be. Tokyo Fist has much in common with Shinya Tsukamoto’s earlier Tetsuo films, with mind bending graphic images, extreme violence, body horror and mutilation. The imagery can be intense and is meant to unsettle, but it marries those aspects familiar from Tetsuo with a narrative that is much easier to grasp, and a very interesting study of character.
Like all the more interesting films, Tokyo Fist works on several levels, and is open to interpretation. It’s worth noting in the interview in the extras, that Tokyo Fist was Tsukamoto’s comment on the impersonal and sterile nature of city living, of the divorcement of people from their humanity as a result. There is something visceral to be had from a simple storyline of revenge through boxing, and you can’t get much more classic than the love triangle that develops between the main characters.
The exploration of character, particularly the characters of Kojima and Tsuda as happens in this film certainly enriches the narrative, with both of the men affected by a shared trauma in their past, but initially dealing with it in different ways, before having to deal with it together, face to face in a boxing ring.
But with this film, I keep coming back to its themes of the isolation and sterility of city living. For each of the three characters, it’s about finding a way to reclaim their humanity in a dehumanising city, and the only way that they can do that is through physical pain. The subversion of character is quite effective here, with the obvious power and masculinity of a boxer disrupting the safe and happy relationship between Tsuda and Hizuru. Tsuda’s insecurity becomes apparent when he begins psychologically dominating Hizuru, and that eventually erupts into violence. That is the turning point for the three characters, and for the men, it becomes about revenge and domination over the other, and while they may feel more alive through pain, it’s through inflicting it on the other that they receive it as well. That’s a recipe for spinning out of control.
On the other hand Hizuru becomes obsessed with body piercing and tattoos, and for her it’s about self-inflicted pain. You could say that this is a classic sign of self-harm, a symptom of low self-esteem, but the way the film portrays her, she is actually the strongest and most self-aware of the characters. Kojima is unnerved by the simple sight of her piercing her ear, where he can readily receive a pummelling in the ring. It becomes apparent to him that she’s beyond his control or comprehension. At the same time, Tsuda’s need for Hizuru is clingy and born of his own low self-esteem, where it’s readily apparent that she has no such need of him. She is the one character that is in control through the film, and it makes her fascination with body modification a much more positive and self-affirming pursuit than the two men’s obsession with boxing. The results of that obsession play out to shocking effect in the film’s conclusion.
Tokyo Fist is an intriguing film, unsettling yet absolutely compelling, with a powerful and ever-relevant message. It gets truly worthy treatment on this Blu-ray, and is well worth watching.