Dir. Shozin Fukui
With the sense of having to blink, slumped back at the end credits, trying to get my senses back together, a secondary viewing doesn't detract from the sensitory barrage of Rubber's Lover, only add to it. Is it all brute sound and violent content only? Probably, but you can become very complacent if one merely goes about believing any art that is lurid and outright hostile is unacceptable. Sometimes you need to shoot up the experimental drug rectally, get the rubber gimp suit on and let your mind be expanded by the pulsating, audible noise being played through the speakers, as crafted as the sound torture a character in the film creates on magnetic tape for a project to expand human consciousness. To actually have an effect on a viewer, it's better to go to the extent Shozin Fukui does in audio assault then be sedate. And what a film, cyberpunk cinema, based on stories around dehumanising industry, slum based fiction whose name evokes punk rock and its D.I.Y ethics. Here, Fukui wanted to depict a theme of his of catharsis through physical pain, and it appears here in the submerged underground laboratory the film is mostly set in, depicted in stark ink black and burnt-out white monochrome photography.
This is a prequel of sorts to his previous film 964 Pinocchio (1991), his debut, not in the same subject, but of the same vibe of psychic power and transgressions with bodily and sexual undercurrents. I would like to imagine too, if one attempted to make a giant narrative encompassing both, that film started some time before its narrative when someone found out about the aftermath of this film and cut their losses by going into the living sex cyborg business that makes part of 964 Pinocchio's story. Better to try and salvage the remnants of the scientific experiment that failed messily here and try a different area with more chance of financial reward. Here, two scientists, and a comely nurse (Mika Kunihiro) in Lolita Goth costume who molests the human guinea pigs, are attempting to bring mankind to psychic abilities like many films before it, but with two potential options for doing so of their own design, the Digital Direct Drive, a piece of technology for monitor and enhance one's mind, and a drug called Ether. The two scientists, Motomiya (Sosuke Saito) and Hitosubashi (Norimizu Ameya), are butting heads about which is the superior method for doing so. One thing they can agree upon is that, in the final stages, their test subjects are wrapped up in an all-rubber body suit, and not just because everyone is exceptionally kinky, but for a practical reason. The rubber suffocates the skin, preventing it from breathing, causing an insulating affect that, with noise blasting your mind away and the Ether drug in your system, will make your everyday senses mindless allowing psychic powers to come to the surface. Thus the title is explained and the S&M aspect of the film is shown. And its based on real research by Fukui before preparing this film, including contacting S&M practitioners, that is explained in a filmed interview that was included with the film's US DVD release. I don't recommend the reader try any of this in an attempt at expanding the mind. The amount of finance and underground space required is steep, and as this film suggests, it would lead to someone being a mess of organs on the floor by the end.
The psychic project is a failure. They're wasting money and killing human test subjects, and not producing the results their benefactors want. And they're clearly going insane, Motomiya, spearheading it, is a "muscle monster", as their nurse calls him, with the muscles of a body builder, who mostly wears only a thong and a see-through raincoat, so on edge and psychopathic I'm not surprised any one would like to close his projects. That or his tendency to rape people which rightly would prevent anyone wanting to assist him in continue said project. Members have gotten addicted to the Ether drug, and the last test subject unfortunately disintegrates on the operating table in splatter fashion when their nurse puts too much Ether into their veins. A female employee of the higher ups Kiku (Nao) is sent to tell them the project is to be closed within a week, but the three remaining members of the staff refuse to finish. The fourth Shimika (Yôta Kawase), an addict to Ether, is planned to be the next test subject in a last ditch attempt to prove to themselves they can succeed, and if Kiku tries to intervene, or accidentally cause the power to go off briefly trying to use an elevator during their experiment, Motomiya has no issues with sticking her between two speakers as a test subject too and blasting her ears with mind shredding noises.
Rubber's Lover is a claustrophobic film. You are grateful it eventually gets out into the real world, to see some neon signs of Japanese streets of the time, or inside a supermarket briefly, trapped in the stark and choked world of the test labs for the most part. The actors were told not to talk to each other during takes, which would've added to the tension onscreen. Unlike the expansive, delirious tone of 964 Pinocchio, with its Andrzej Zulawski inspired moving cameras and hyper active acting, this is a complete 180 degree turn. A refined, subtler form of the hyper violent, assaulting content as Shimika ,during the experiment, does develop psychic powers but still has the will to take his revenge on his former co-workers. Not through the conventions though, blowing someone's head off Scanners-like, but with Kiku the catalyst he is linked to now, through destroying someone's brain, disintegrating their body, or flat-out cannibalism whilst in an entire different body. Add to this a moment of blistering strobe effect that distorts your retinas, and it's an intense experience, but the quietness of most of the film baring the electronic trance score that occasionally is heard creates an interesting mix. Its oppressive even before the fake gore effects are seen, or the sexual aspects seep into front of your eyes, already unnerving in its rundown, industrial locations.
|Don't worry, nothing bad happens to the bunny.|
The director's theme in both films is that transition and transformation is possible through agony, the film structured around effecting the viewer where you feel like you've gone through the same procedures until a waking sensation by the ending. The monochrome images. The sound design and disturbing content, including prolonged repetition of dialogue samples in scenes of pronounced psychokinetic events taking place. It's not surprising Fukui worked on Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), the most significant film in the Japanese cyberpunk subgenre. In fact, of immense interest, you can see three trajectories' come out from that film. That of its director Shinja Tsukamoto, who would continue with the theme of the body and then develop more and more emotion to his work. Co-cinematographer and main actress Kei Fujiwara would unfortunately only make two features as a director herself, the most well known one Organ (1996) I've also reviewed online before [Viewable here], but developed her own unique spin on body horror that would baffle and alarm anyone who went into them expecting a Sushi Typhoon fest of cheesy gore. Fukui decided to concentrate on the mind and the transformation of it. Of course the three of them would have themes that would blur into each other's work, but they took their own inspirations alongside what happened in Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
In contrast to the first film, Rubber's Lover has a darker conclusion as the dependency on the Ether drug and lost memories leads to an end. The climax involving a discovery of a dark past continually referenced to including a film, on celluloid, in Motomiya's collection. It also involves the sudden appearance of snow falling inside a room, a moment of elegant grace before the closest moment to a Scanners scene taking place. The end is tragic but continues with someone sat against a pillar inside a subway. They have been through torture, until becoming more then they were, leaving them drastically changed. Fukui would not make another feature film for over ten years after Rubber's Lover, returning back with films and shorts that look impossible to see. If it was the last time he made a film, it certainly ends with the right statement, leaving this viewer fried mentally gripping with the content again. The beginning of something new, back to the idea of catharsis through physical violence.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None) - High
There's an entire wing of this site that's going to be devoted to Japanese cinema let alone their cyberpunk movies, such imaginative but also stark work. The borderline between alternative, underground art - theatre, punk and experimental music etc. - matched by giant drill penises, pig people and in this film's case leather frog man suit fetish and a prolonged scene of the two actresses writhing in a white lit elevator being pleasured by a pocket machine that blatantly stimulates your orgamically. A person's torso being ripped open while they're still awake and a very muscled man, able to make sound with them just through flexing, wearing only a transparent raincoat, repeated again in this review by how bizarre that particular image is to me. In fact you can add the almost nude muscle men in Tsukamoto's Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992) and paint this image of large biceped men in underground lairs involved in evolving mankind that's impossible to shake out of your head. But Rubber's Lover isn't pointlessly lurid. Disturbing, yes, and definitely a film that has divided people, but one that at least contains a distinct and provocative point of view. Rubber's Lover is merciless in its abrasive content but for the means for what is felt rather than direct ideas. It is worth mentioning Fukui's background in noise rock about now, the sense of the embracing of the messiness and oppressiveness of noise fitting the style of the content in this film. The result, like a Tetsuo: The Iron Man is completely unique and unrelenting.
It's difficult to choose between this and 964 Pinocchio in which is the best film. Fukui's other work, barring two shorts that came with each film on US DVD, are to my knowledge unavailable to see. Here you get a very idiosyncratic style of filmmaking that feels like putting your head in a vice, not necessarily a horrible situation to be in when the calm final shot is shown and the whole viewing was worth it. They are part of a filmmaking style, like Tsukamoto's work or Organ, which is unconventional even for the extremes of all the violent Japanese cinema I've viewed, and not just because their created worked together, but also in an area of underground filmmaking which is willing to step outside of good taste but also have a clear idea for something a lot deeper. Maybe represented in brutality and fake gore being splattered about, but still an idea or mood. Like a pressure cooker, Rubber's Lover keeps going from one extreme to the next one, tightening and becoming more disturbing as it goes along. The result is impossible not to feel a reaction to.