Arrow Video: Scream into the Neon Night: Burst City (1982)

Burst City (1982) starts out zooming through the streets of Tokyo at night, the lights whizzing by, forming an abstract and dazzling assault to the senses. The aim is to get the audience's blood pumping, to prepare them for the hyper-chaotic experience that director Sogo Ishii AKA Gakuryū Ishii has in store for them. Part experimental film and part music video, Burst City is a rowdy piece of art that encapsulates the independent "don't fuck with me" spirit that punk music embraces. This film was also part of the jishu eiga or "self-produced" era of Japanese filmmaking in the early '80s where potential auteurs not only had to make movies outside of the failing Japanese industry with no money, they also had to do so with little to no training. Burst City did get funding and distribution from Toei but prior to that Ishii was making movies on his own terms.

The setting for the film is a dystopian Japan (possibly in the future or perhaps an alternate timeline). Big business has combined forces with the yakuza and they want to build a nuclear power plant in the middle of the city. The locals don't take kindly to this intrusion and try to fight back. The side plot concerns two punk bands called The Rockers and The Stalin (who were mostly comprised of real life punk musicians) who are playing sets to giant bombastic crowds who need a release from their boring lives. There are also some Mad Max style bikers roaming around searching for a murderer. All three of these groups collide in the third act into an all out orgy of violence, mayhem, fire, and music the likes of which had never been seen before on film.

When the camera isn't busy dashing around exploring adrenaline-filled punk performances, it occasionally drifts into impressionistic territory, lingering in close-up details on the lips of someone taking a slow drag off of a cigarette or milling around in the dilapidated hideouts of the bands. It feels like a combination of a cyberpunk sci-fi film and a music documentary with each of the sides spilling into each other without warning. 

This "burst city" is not unlike the bloated corpse of a dead animal, with its guts spilling out all over the street, slick and grimy. All authority is not to be trusted and corporations, the yakuza, and the so-called "battle police" have combined into one enormous symbolic boot stomping on the face of everyone who dares to question them. Burst City isn't really concerned with the details as much as its trying to convey a feeling of rebellion and freedom

Arrow's release of this work is fantastic with a beautiful 1080p transfer of the original 16mm print--it's nice and grainy which adds to the aesthetic. Tom Mes provides an illuminating commentary that covers Sogo Ishii's inspirations, the state of punk music at the time, and lots of background on how the film came to be. The two interviews with Sogo Ishii and Yoshiharu Tezuka are fascinating as well, especially Tezuka's as he goes into the jishu eiga era of Japanese filmmaking in great detail.


High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

Original lossless mono Japanese soundtrack

Optional English subtitles

Brand new audio commentary by Japanese film expert Tom Mes

The Punk Spirit of ’82: Sōgo Ishii on Burst City, an exclusive new 56-minute interview with the director

Bursting Out, an exclusive 27-minute interview with the academic and independent filmmaker Yoshiharu Tezuka on jishu eiga and the making of Burst City

Original Trailer

Image Gallery

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Player

--Michelle Kisner