was conceived and shot guerilla-style in the mid 1990’s, but its pitched rivalry
between Japanese and Chinese street gangs seems timelier today. Instead of the East China Sea, they battle on
the streets of the Koenji and Shinjuku districts in Sion Sono’s Bad Film, which screens tomorrow during the
closing night of the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival.
1995, 1997 constituted the near future.
Now it is alternate history, or whatever. At that time, Sono was more or less leading
the Tokyo GAGAGA art collective, whose 2,000 members were the cast and
co-conspirators on what is now known as Bad
Film. Reportedly, Sono ran out of
funds before completing his DIY epic, but not before shooting one hundred fifty
hours of vintage Hi8 footage. Years
later, Sono edited it into narrative shape, so here we go.
the backing of various criminal organizations, gangs of ethnic supremacists
wage war on the streets of Tokyo. The
Japanese Kamikazes and the Chinese Baihubang particularly have it in for each
other. Much to the frustration Shiro
(played by the director), things are going badly for the home team. However, peace is eventually brokered,
largely prompted by the romance blossoming between his emotionally scarred
sister and Maggie, an apocalyptic pan-handler and part-time member of a lesbian
Chinese girl gang.
first, everything is cool, but some still prefer making war over love. Complicating matters, Maggie and her comrades
make overtures to the closeted Kamikazes, hoping to realign the gangs along
gay-straight lines, with their faction on top.
The shiny-headed Kamikaze boss will not appreciate that. Decidedly homophobic, his tastes run more
if there is anything transgressive missing from Bad Film it is only because Sono forgot to throw it in. There is also plenty of brawling madness and
general eccentricity, but it is not exactly the lost masterpiece some would
suggest. Frankly, it mostly constitutes
a street gang melodrama not all that different from a teenaged star-vehicle
like Monga, dressed up with all kinds
of broadsides against nationalism, traditional morality, and what Tokoyo GAGAGA
might sneeringly term “polite society.”
Sono is not bad at all as the flawed but redeemable Shiro and the TG member
playing Maggie is quite impressive. The
deliberate echoes of Romeo and Juliet
give the proceedings greater tragic heft and Sono’s subversive humor definitely
takes no prisoners. Nonetheless, despite everyone’s clear commitment, the two
and a half hour-plus running time is a tad excessive, hitting a pronounced
patch of doldrums around the one hundred minute mark.
Sono is a bold filmmaker, whose go-for-broke-ness
often leads to dropped jaws and/or infectious giddiness. Bad
Film cannot live up to the sheer power of a subsequent masterwork like Love Exposure, but it is a fascinating
hybrid of cinema, street theater, and collective wackiness. Recommended for
fans of Sono and long, strange cult cinema, Bad
Film screens tomorrow night (8/7) at the Imperial Theatre, as this year’s
Fantasia comes to a close.
Labels: Fantasia '13, Japanese Cinema, Sion Sono