How do you rate a film that has very little in the way of plot and plays more like an extended punk rock music video instead of a traditional film? Well that’s what we have with Sogo Ishii’s 1982 effort, Burst City. A picture that, as the title suggests, bursts through the screen at you in a way not often seen before or since.
The film centres on the residents of Tokyo, Japan, rebelling against the construction of a nuclear power plant by staging a gig comprised of local punk bands. The opening scenes of Burst City are genuinely exciting, with backstage footage of one of the punk bands before they go onstage, the band working up the crowd before they go on and start their noisy protest.
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And a noisy protest it certainly is. Burst City appearing to be a showcase of sorts for four Japanese punk bands of the time: The Roosters, The Rockers, The Stalin and INU. The bands influences ranging from the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash through to the Ramones and Dead Kennedys, which should offer up an idea of the anarchic way Burst City presents itself. The scenes involving the bands playing are actually very impressive (if you’re a fan of standing at the front row during gigs, that is!) as they show the bands from the perspective of being in the crowd and also what it looks like from the band’s point of view, so some care must have been taken to get that fly-on-the-wall mosh pit vibe that Sogo Ishii created here.
It’s these scenes that are, quite predictably, the highlight of Burst City. Yes, there are lots of them but they really do capture the anarchy, attitude and culture of the punk community in Japan in the late 70s and early 80s. And if you are into old school punk then the music is pretty great too, and offers an insight as to why Burst City has been called a defining film of that particular subculture. Hence its cult status and Arrow Video’s release here.
Beyond the concert scenes? Well, there are dark scenes of the oppressive businessman that runs the power plant using young girls for pleasure. and being generally corrupt with his Yakuza friends and a biker gang out for revenge. That aside, we see the punk bands spending their days lounging around the power plant, waiting for the chance to blast out their brand of noise again. When all these things collide in the final scenes it is the anarchic, chaotic mess you’d expect and wish for at this point in Burst City.
Punk bands, power plant workers, fans, the corrupt businessman, the Yakuza and the bikers, along with some futuristic Stormtrooper-esque enforcers (?!) come together in an explosive finale, and it is as random as you’d expect but also actually pretty fun, with everyone coming together to take on the dodgy businessman and his Yakuza pals. If you’ve stuck with Burst City at this point, it’s probably fair to say you’ve invested in the film to an extent and are rewarded with a climax and final line that sums up the film perfectly – but we won’t give that line away here.
Extras for this Arrow Video release of Burst City include ‘The Punk Spirit of 82’, an exclusive interview with director Sogo Ishii about the film; an exclusive interview with independent filmmaker Yoshiharu Tezuka on the making of Burst City; an audio commentary by Japanese film expert Tom Mes; the original trailer; image gallery; and a reversible sleeve with new artwork by Chris Malbon. First pressings only include an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Player.
Overall, Burst City is a heady mix of Mad Max-style bikers, Yakuza gangs, power-hungry businessmen, the police, and explosive punk rock, with a hint of sci-fi thrown in for good measure. The image you have in your head right now is probably what Burst City is; exciting, fast, random, loud, brave, powerful and in-your-face. Certainly not for everyone but definitely a film all of its own. Burst City is anarchy.
Burst City is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.