Dir: Shozin Fukui
Screenplay: Shozin Fukui, Makoto Hamaguchi and Naoshi Gôda
Cast: Haji Suzuki, Onn-chan, Kôji Ôtsubo, Kyoko Hara, Rakumaro San'yûtei
Synopsis: A brain washed "sex doll" (Haji Suzuki) tattooed with the code "964 Pinocchio" on his shoulder is tossed out into the streets by his owners for being dysfunctional in his assigned purpose, left to wander the urban environment as a disorientated baby-like figure with a tiny stub of hair stood tall in his forehead and dressed in medical garb. By coincidence he falls into the lap (literally) of a homeless woman Himiko (Onn-chan) who takes him in. Dubbing him Pinocchio from the branded tattoo, the two bond while she teaches him to talk and looks after him. When he regains his awareness however a horrible transformation occurs to both of them, he physically, Himiko losing her sanity, and desiring then on to harm him, when she regains suppressed memories connected to his past purpose. At the same time the secret company that "made" Pinocchio, ran by an eccentric megalomaniac, is horrified to learn their (illegal) sex slave is in the open free, sending lackeys out to drag him back for reprogramming and to snuff anyone out who knows his existence. Anarchy ensures.
The synopsis above is an attempt to clear up the establishing plot to 964 Pinocchio. While in the same category of Japanese cyberpunk films like Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), there are differences as there are similarities, fitting as Shozin Fukui worked on Tetsuo in the production crew. Like Tetsuo, it is a pulpy, transgressive sci-fi story which has extensive use of abrasive editing and practical effects. Tetsuo is in the same camp as 964 Pinocchio, with extra leanings into old kaiju films and avant-garde gruel, but it proves to be an apt start to its director Tsukamoto's career as, while its more about the visceral nature of the content, it has hints of Tsukamoto's obsessions with human emotions by way of extreme body changes. 964 Pinocchio is more about the upfront effect of the transgressive content on its characters and is significantly more heightened in tone in comparison. It is closer to Andrzej Zulawski's Possession (1981) in terms of a spiritual sibling.
964 Pinocchio could come off as more cartoonish and weird, even more a living manga than Tetsuo, despite the strong connections Tsukamoto's has to them, because of the passionate, hyperactive tone which you find in a bit of manga (and anime). Very exaggerated performances, swear words in the Japanese language track bleeped, (probably for effect), and violence that is abrupt and visibly abrasive when it takes place. There's also a lot of running and shouting. As with Tetsuo, the environments used are far removed from those one would presume to be in a cartoon, urban and industrial realism from a supermarket interior to wasteland. The film adds to this verité with its rough aesthetic, shot in colour, contradicting the content of the film and creating a greater intensity as a result. Like Possession, there's a tightrope walk between intensity and the silly that 964 Pinocchio takes a risk walking on. From the beginning you have a level of absurdity that is clearly meant to be funny or at least silly, starting with a villain who raves about his plans to control sex and eating from a bowl of cherries he willingly lets his beautiful, bespectacled secretary drool un-human amounts of water from her mouth into first. This with the moments of realism or brutality, including an un-concluded subplot about a lackey wanting to adopt a child, creates a stew of emotional states that whips you around in various directions you don't find in many others films.
Pinocchio is depicted as a literal child, wandering around in immense confusion muttering incoherently. A prolonged scene at the supermarket, with a continuous moving camera, shows him being dragged by his hand as he paws at food to eat indiscriminately with no control like a young child. Shozin Fukui, like in his short film Gerorisuto (1990), takes advantage of shooting with real bystanders on location rather than extras, the guerrilla style of capturing the scenes emphasising the chaos of the narrative when the bystanders react and look on at what is taking place. The most extreme of these moments, the bravado moment of the whole film, involves Haji Suzuki as Pinocchio when his character is chained to a metal square pyramid* by his neck and hands dragging the prop behind him as he runs through a large and crowded metropolitan area, a sea of people splitting in half as he cuts through them for the scene.
The performances are completely selfless from the cast for their willingness to push themselves to extremes, more so the most with Onn-chan as Himiko, who steals the film with a level of insanity to the performance, after the character starts off as a quiet, good natured person in the first act, that delivers a level of elastic facial expressions and nakedness that very few actors would be brave to act out on camera. Full of manic shapes and fits of deranged noises, from skipping and weaving between pillars in an underground corridor to almost changing her facial features into a different person's when she bugs out, it does evoke the Possession comparisons the most in lieu of Isabella Adjani in Zulawski's film. The infamous subway sequence from Possession is evoked, as well as a key sequence from Gerorisuto** being reinterpreted, when Himiko is involved with one of the longest puking sequences I have seen in cinema which leads to the character rolling in an amount, possibly done with rice, that is inhumanly impossible for any person to project out from their body.
The skill in which the use of tracking camera shots are used in the film stand out for the movie's willingness, on a low budget, to push the level of kineticism possible despite the production limitations. Inventive use of camera shots and framing, more so in places than even the more famous Tetsuo: The Iron Man, litter the movie and the moments of heavy editing do cause the recommended effect of battering the viewer's senses in. The film is intentionally subjective in what its plot is about - why the synopsis I've written is as detailed as it is - and uses quick-frame editing techniques for background content and memories characters rediscover to add to the confusion they feel. Also adding to this these moments are either in monochrome or in heavily saturated colour lighting.
The pulpy, transgressive content will sate a cult movie fan as well. Knowing of old Japanese sci-fi films from studios like Toho will actually make the film, like Tetsuo, even more entertaining in this area because the clear influence is there, from the eccentric costume designs to plot devices like the gas gun the size of a bazooka being giving to one character for clean-up of anyone who gets in the way. Far from tacky it adds to the energy of the film when its content is as exaggerated.
Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
In terms of what the plot of 964 Pinocchio is actually about, I personally prefer to see it as a moody genre piece than try to give it a philosophical slant. For both this film and Rubber's Lover (1996) though, Fukui does have a theme for them of catharsis through physical pain, and while it is the later film took this idea to its fullest extent, it is visible here too but in an embryo form. It is not hard to see the story of a sex doll developing his cognisance through this concept. The ending, which involves a face being pulled off and a ridiculous mushroom head that reminded me of the floating stone head from Zardoz (1974), not to mention a cameo from the Eifel Tower, does show two characters after their traumatic experiences becoming one entity and finding peace***. The coda, out of context of the film's plot with the two main actors being filmed at a concert, adds a sense of cathartic release linked to a snapshot of people dancing to a noisy, electronically backed rock music in a dance club.
Rubber's Lover is a much more polished and consistently toned film, which streamlines the eccentric humour in favour of more intensity and dreamlike content. The black-and-white look instead of colour adds to its mood. Said to be a prequel to 964 Pinocchio, if there is a linking back-story between them it's that, after the disastrous experiments in that film involving psychic power, it would be that someone cleaned up the bloodbath that took place and, instead of trying to unlock ESP abilities, found it better to lobotomise people and turn them into sex dolls to sell to bisexual, tattooed women who want a third wheel to enjoy with her diminutive girlfriend who dresses as a maid. Both films are in the high range of "abstract" cult movies, Rubber's Lover for its atmosphere, 964 Pinocchio for its energy and sentences like the former one I've just written based on scenes as strange as they sound.
Finding Shozin Fukui's first two films, still sadly obscure in cult cinema as a director, was a revelation. While it is difficult to pinpoint exact reasons why this is very different from Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the films are very different in mood and tone even though they have clear similarities and connections. It does emphasis the richness of this type of cinema when I've barely scrapped through the many Japanese cyberpunk films that exist, and can still claim to have seen how the medium technically and content can be pushed in innovative ways. Rubber's Lover is my preferred of the two, Fukui's career still productive in the 2000s but sadly not as large or accessible as Shinya Tsukamoto's, but 964 Pinocchio is no slouch in quality either.
* A literal square pyramid made from metal found in a landfill. It makes no sense where it came from, but considering the prelude of Himiko looking so happy in her derangement running around a DIY store with a shopping trolley and a welder's helmet on, I won't complain about the absurdity of the object's shape.
** Gerorisuto is a series of events involving a young woman losing her sanity. Scenes in the short include a prolonged moment of vomiting and an extended one on a crowded street at night time when she interacts with (real) bystanders who step away when she grabs or clings to them. I wouldn't be surprised if this short became a test run, even if in hindsight, and was cannibalised for key moments in the director's debut feature.
*** Strangely that also evokes Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996), thus invoking the Third Impact and Synchronisation with Sean Connery in a nappy in one sentence. Whether any other films I cover can top that juxtaposition is up in the air.