Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror
Running Time: 97'
Director: Shozin Fukui
Cast: Hage Suzuki, Onn Chan, Kyoko Hara, Koji Kita, Ranyaku Mikutei
GHOUL RATING: ***(*) 4-
Story: A discarded sex-droid with erased memory roams the streets of Tokyo until he meets Himiko, a strange girl with binoculars who also suffers from a memory loss. Together they go to her dark, ramshackle room, where she tries to teach him speech and help remember his past. At the same time, the crazy sex-droid constructor sends out his goons to recover ‘Pinocchio’… Then Himiko starts acting REAL weird and tries to (literally) enchain the droid. But no chains can stop him once HE starts acting REAL-REAL weird and rushing to meet his maker…
Review: PINOCCHIO 964 is a delicious piece of weirdness the likes of which you’ll hardly ever find west of Japan. It belongs to a typically Japanese kind of cyberpunk which, unlike its American counterparts (ranging from BLADE RUNNER to THE MATRIX), is light on budget, effects and gloss, but heavy on the whole ‘punk’ part of the affair. You might actually say that the Japanese put ‘punk’ back into ‘cyberpunk’. And punk means: a lot of dirt, grit, bad taste, nihilism, exaggeration, speed, noise… Which is a good and healthy thing, and it brings this subgenre back to the basics as expounded by William (Neuromancer) Gibson.
Another distinction: while the American films of this subgenre are often SFX extravaganzas using a lot of action film’s trademarks, the Japanese ones usually verge on another, appropriately bleaker genre – horror. As such, they are much more body-conscious and far more existential in their approach to the genre, which means that their western roots, if any, can be found primarily in the early works of David Cronenberg (especially SCANNERS and VIDEODROME). In PINOCCHIO 964 one can also recognize bits from David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD, while the screaming frenzy in the later part of the movie seems to build upon the insanity of A. Zulawsky’s POSSESSION. Shozin Fukui, in the interview supplemented on the DVD disc, admits that POSSESSION is one of his all time favorites, which is more than obvious even without his explicit statement.
PINOCCHIO 964 starts with a bang: a flash of quick cuts shows the titular character in the arms of two writhing naked women, a drill to his head (to erase his memory) and him being dragged into the street by a sexy ‘nurse’. Slim, pale and bald (save for a small patch of hair in the front), in white hospital clothes, he’s obviously a lost soul, a stranger in a strange land. He’s immediately recognized as such by Himiko, a girl who’s making some kind of a map so as not to be lost in the city. Their encounter takes place on a crowded sidewalk in a scene which is pure guerilla filmmaking – with real passersby around them instead of stuntmen and extras. Fukui obviously likes to use (and provoke) his fellow citizens: later in the film, there is a scene in which Pinocchio is running amuck down the crowded city streets, screaming with his bloodied mouth and dragging chains behind him, while the confused Tokyo citizens look on.
Pure punk, isn’t it? Or perhaps this attitude is best exemplified when Himiko goes crazy in the subway and starts vomiting copiously for interminable minutes, in a scene that is obviously inspired by the famous Isabelle Adjani going berserk in the subway of POSSESSION. It doesn’t get longer and more explicit than this, so - be warned! The film is relatively light on gore, and violence is equally directed towards the viewer as it is towards the characters in the film: it is done through flashy editing, tilted framing, close-ups of screaming distorted faces and a lot of noise. The final 20 minutes or so consist of a long frantic running down the streets and alleys -TETSUO-style- with a speed that may get you dizzy, especially if you enhance the viewing with any substance heavier than a fruit juice.
This is a film pretty light on plot, and even the little there is – is not hammered into your skull the Hollywood way. You may or may not ‘get’ all the characters, their histories and connections on first viewing, but – here’s the good news: this is definitely a highly enjoyable and rewatchable film, provided you’re into this kind of unconventional filmmaking in the first place. PINOCCHIO 964 is, more than anything else, a pure emotion recorded on film, and the emotion is: rage, anger, frustration, confusion, alienation, a sense of being betrayed and lost. Hage Suzuki, as Pinocchio, is perfect in conveying this through his body language and expressive face, and Shozin Fukui is always there to capture and edit it to a maximum effect. If I’m to look for some faults, I might say that music could’ve been a tad better, that a little bit more gore wouldn’t hurt it, and that the final showdown could’ve been more explosive and cathartic. But, except the last complaint, these are minor faults which do not hurt the film in any noticeable way. If you’re into stuff like ERASERHEAD, VIDEODROME, POSSESSION and, of course, TETSUO – then PINOCCHIO 964 is definitely for you.
DVD [ NTSC, Region 1 ]
After 13 years of cult status and second-hand fame, this rarely seen gem can finally be enjoyed on something other than a poor VHS copy. Thanks to Unearthed Films, PINOCCHIO 964 is presented on a quality DVD, in full-screen and with 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. The extras include a short film CATERPILLAR (a slightly overlong, but intriguing outburst of punk energy: no plot, but a lot of images to assault the viewer) and an interview with the director –a quiet, almost shy-looking fellow who does not explain more than his film does, but still gives a valuable insight into his creative strategies and provides some funny anecdotes as well.