Tokyo Fist

Tokyo Fist 3.jpg
UK Release Date 1995
Director Shinya Tsukamoto
Starring Tsukamoto, Fujii
Runtime 87 Minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 27th November 2013

Remember the first time your head connected with the concrete? What did it feel like when your nose exploded across your face? Was it painful? Was it excruciating? Were you concussed and nauseous? Did you whimper on the floor or did you pull yourself up off of the deck and demand more? Offer your chin to be broken and your teeth knocked down the back of your throat?

Watching Director/Actor Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tokyo Fist is like taking a cinematic hiding at the hands of a Stella swigging lunatic. The punishment is relentless and sadistic, a barrage of sonic abuse that makes you go to your corner and not come back out for the next round. You could be like Roberto Duran and shout, “No Mas” but you’d miss the adrenaline, the ass kicking, that perverse sense that you might just be a sadomasochist.

Tsukamoto plays Tsuda, a timid door-to-door insurance salesman, a post-industrial drone buzzing around the glass and steel hive of 90s Tokyo. The diminutive Tsuda flicks from one structure to another, a tertiary conformist selling his own fear and loathing to other drones equally afraid of their angular existence. The camera smashes after him with the subtlety of an earthquake, the amateurish editing kicks out the need for any exposition. 

We are bombarded with demented montages of leering close ups and voyeuristic long shots, crash zooms and claustrophobic frames. The sky is absent, nature is absent and when we see organic matter it is decaying and riddled with maggots. Has mankind’s industrial might insulated him from human emotion, divorced him so utterly from reality that he can no longer recognise the wind on his skin?

What about home? Tsuda’s cramped apartment feels like a techno torture chamber. Nothing looks comfortable, nothing wants to cradle or relax a human being. Orwellian blue light hangs like a poisonous fog sucking the life and soul out of Tsuda. A microwave oven sits sentinel, ready to strike out with its unhealthy convenience and cast further interference out into the polluted atmosphere.

Tsuda isn’t alone. His androgynous fiancé, Hizuru lurks with him in the apartment. They barely communicate other than to watch old movies on an aggressive television set. Rather than face the dull neon of their own world, they would rather be transported into the black and white of a past one. Do these films offer a vague promise of humanity? This hope is dashed when we spy Metropolis on the box, hinting at their future as cultural automatons. 

A chance meeting with Tsuda’s school pal Kojima promises to blast away the couple’s lingering future shock. Kojima is a boxer, lean, hard sinewy muscle and incredible hand speed. Kojima also has designs over Hizuru and humiliates Tsuda, beating him to a pulp and knocking us senseless in the process. She moves into Kojima’s Spartan home but frightens the living daylights out of him when, shock horror, she develops a personality of her own.

Like Tsukamoto’s earlier films, Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, Tokyo Fist explores bodily transformation that is kick-started by apocalyptic rage. Tsuda is disgusted with his inability to fend off the rampaging Kojima and trains as a boxer to harden his mind and body, a spiritual release from the monotony of consumer Japan and the gradual terror of the Lost Decade.

For all of Tokyo Fist’s extreme bloody violence the most disturbing aspect of the film is Kojima and Tsuda’s cowardice in the face of Hizuru’s emerging sexuality. Increasingly, Hizuru disfigures herself in a variety of bizarre ways before destroying Tsuda’s face in a sickening beating. Kojima cannot contain her and retreats to the gym where he has a final brutal showdown with Tsuda rather than face a woman who does not conform to the Japanese stereotype.

With its Japanoise soundtrack, surreal imagery and hyperkinetic editing style, Tokyo Fist gets right up in your grill like Fight Club on Angel Dust or a cyberpunk Rocky. The violence is traumatic, a kind of spiritual rebirth that disfigures the main characters and leaves us as battered and bruised as they are, spitting out molars and tasting concrete for the next few weeks, reminding us that we are still alive.

Check out the trailer here.

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