“How do we repress the animal instinct to explode?” asks a narratorial voice (Masakatsu Funaki) in Sogo Ishii’s 50-minute cyberpunk fever dream Electric Dragon 80000v (エレクトリック·ドラゴン 80000V). The supercharged hero is indeed filled with a kind of rage, not least because society seems intent on trying to “regulate” him while he later comes into contact with an opposing force whose job it is to control the electric flow though in a curious way the two men perhaps free each other from their mutual oppression and regain the right to run on their own current.
“Dragon Eye” Morrison (Tadanobu Asano), as he comes to be called, got zapped by a pylon when he was a child which altered his brain, awakening the dragon within by “damaging” the part of our neurology unchanged from our reptile ancestors that controls emotion and acts of desire. Doctors seem intent on “correcting” this “fault” in his circuitry through electro-shock therapy to force him to conform to mainstream society while he does admittedly seem to have some problems with violence and impulse control. He self-regulates by chaining himself to a table and “recharging” overnight while easing his frustrations through playing electric guitar, boxing, and hanging out with his calming lizard friends
Meanwhile, Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase) is literally divided in two, one half of his face covered in a metallic Buddha mask hinting at the inner duality which at times literally leaves him at war with himself while wandering around with an electric metre trying to control not just his own flow but everyone’s. “He’s the electricity man! All its wavelengths are his!” the narrator explains, while Thunderbolt Buddha turns his head to the Buddha side and an old lady prays to him in his infinite calmness. Not so long before, he’d been acting as a vigilante thief, like Dragon Eye in the ring only darkly exorcising his frustration through violence attacking the corrupting forces of the contemporary society. Perhaps jealous, or just seeking an escape, Thunderbolt Buddha gradually dismantles all of Dragon’s Eye’s means of self-regulation, disappearing lizards and chopping his electric guitar into a series of uniform triangles. Dragon Eye tries to put it back together, but the guitar doesn’t play the right tune anymore, now echoing Thunderbolt Buddha’s eerie discordance. “I just wanted to see you angry” Thunderbolt Buddha admits, trying to engineer a battle that will decide each of their fates.
Dragon Eye’s power is in one sense manmade, he got he got it from a pylon which is after all an attempt to regulate natural energy into something useful to a modern society, whereas Thunderbolt Buddha was as his name suggests was struck by lightning and imbued with 20,000v of naturally generated pure electric charge. As the two men square off against each other on a Tokyo rooftop, Dragon Eye once again marshals the power of modernity, ripping open the electric power supply and using it to supercharge himself before turning it on Thunderbolt Buddha who has no such recourse to a greater power. In the end, they are perhaps both freed. Thunderbolt Buddha’s mask falls to the ground while a calmed Dragon Eye retrieves his lizard and returns home no longer locking himself into his electric table but freed of its restraints.
Shooting in a crisp black and white, Ishii returns to the punk sensibilities of his earlier career in a tale of a free spirit seeking escape from a conformist society and rebelling against the forces quite literally intent on regulating his brain. Echoing the avant-garde cinema of the 1960s, Ishii uses anarchic title cards with strangely drawn, elongated figures accompanying the voiceover narration and aggressive guitar music as the two men spark in conflict each threatening to explode, already overloaded with the alternating currents of contemporary civility. “Let’s send them to hell, your demons and mine” Thunderbolt Buddha insists, ironically echoing Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo the Iron Man as the pair bend the electric city to their will and finally find release in a mutual explosion that catapults each of them free of the magnetic pull of social conformity towards a world of freedom in self-regulation and independent flow.
Electric Dragon 80000v is released on blu-ray in the UK on 6th March courtesy of Third Window Films.
Original trailer (English subtitles)