PROFILE: Director: Shozin Fukui

Relatively unknown outside of Japan, Shozin Fukui is an independent filmmaker who’s secured a small international cult fan base through his work in Japan’s extreme cyberpunk movement of the late-80s and ‘90s. However, the highly violent and sexual nature of his work has largely prevented him from ascending beyond the Japanese underground.

Fukui is an enigma of sorts. Little has been published about him, huge gaps are present in his filmography as he disappears, sometimes for years, to pursue other ambitions, and no-one is entirely sure as to how many films he has actually made. The Internet Movie Database, for example, lists only three, whereas other sources list up to ten, consisting of a mix of shorts and features.

Tokyo underground
Born in 1961, Fukui moved to Tokyo in the early 1980s where he got infatuated and involved with Japan’s booming punk scene, and started playing in his own punk band with friends. He also started to get involved in the underground filmmaking scene, a cue taken from underground director Sogo Ishii and his punk dystopian movie Burst City (1982).

After shooting promotional videos for various bands, Fukui made his first work of fiction Metal Days (1986), with members of his band and other friends performing cast and crew duties. Shot on 8mm and an hour in length, it was an ambitious effort from a group with zero filmmaking experience. Nevertheless, it got invited to be screened at a variety of university film festivals.

The same group of people then quickly turned out Gerorisuto (1986), a short film about a disturbed and possibly possessed young woman roaming the Tokyo subway and attacking office workers in the street. Plotless in the conventional sense, Gerorisuto is indebted to Fukui’s favourite film – Andrzej Zulawski’s art-horror opus Possession (1981) – and its notoriously prolonged vomiting set the precedent for Fukui’s future aesthetic obsession with bodily fluids.

From punk to cyberpunk
In 1988, Fukui worked as an assistant director for Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), a seminal film that not only became a flagship title for Japanese cyberpunk - detailing a businessman’s surreal transformation from human to mass of living scrap iron – but helped rejuvenate Japan’s film industry as a whole due to its international success. Fukui frequently plays down his role, maintaining that he merely “helped out a little,” as many crewmembers came and went during the lengthy production - a gruelling eighteen months of shooting that very few saw through to the end.

In tandem with Tetsuo’s production, Fukui set about directing another short. The result was Caterpillar (1988), a half-hour experimental film that saw Fukui moving towards cyberpunk imagery in a manner similar to Tsukamoto, featuring industrial locations, a malfunctioning cyborg/android and a hulking metallic ‘caterpillar’ that stalks characters (brought to life through stop-motion photography). Again, the film is more about imagery than conventional storytelling and sees Fukui finding his voice as a filmmaker.

Fukui worked again as an assistant director – fully fledged this time around – under the command of key underground filmmaker Sogo Ishii for his short Shiatsu Oja (1989). It was at this time when Fukui decided to make the leap from obscure short filmmaking and into features, and, by the beginning of the 1990s, he did exactly that.

When mental anguish exceeds physical pain
Fukui’s first feature, 964 Pinocchio (1991), is a culmination of everything that was explored in his previous short films – the kinetic, cyberpunk imagery of Caterpillar combined with the guerrilla style mania of Gerorisuto – made into a linear narrative about a man-turned-cyborg sex-slave being thrown out on the street by his owners. He meets a homeless girl and falls in love with her, regaining his memory of the evil corporation that wronged him in the process.

Reminiscent of the hyper-kinetic delivery of Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man and, again, partially indebted to Zulawski’s Possession, 964 Pinocchio (also known as Screams Of Blasphemy in some territories) became a minor cult sensation as international eyes were starting to look eastward. Intrigued by Tetsuo and other similarly extreme films such as Takeshi Kitano’s Violent Cop (1989), cult audiences were blown away by the sheer madness unfolding on screen, as a hysterical Pinocchio runs through the streets – amidst genuine Tokyo onlookers – as he drags a huge wedge of scrap metal chained to his person.

Fukui’s second and arguably best feature, Rubber’s Lover (1996) continues his exploration into cyberpunk territory, and took almost half a decade to gestate and execute. The zaniness of his first feature was reigned in and replaced with a stronger narrative and a claustrophobic intensity, realised in harrowing monochrome. The film’s depiction of clandestine experiments (reminiscent of David Cronenberg) into the potential of psychic powers not only made for a wildly violent and surreal cinematic nightmare but best encapsulated Fukui’s personal ethos of true power only being awakened when “mental anguish exceeds physical pain.”

Move to video
Like 964 Pinochhio, Rubber’s Lover became a hit in underground film circles and even got its own video release. However, at the height of his success and fame, Fukui abandoned filmmaking and joined a video production company. He worked there for the next ten years, producing visual work for businesses.

Things start to become unclear at this point. After his stint in the video industry, Fukui returned to making his own independent films. His official comeback film is largely acknowledged to be The Hiding (2008) but there are supposedly two other works completed before this. Den-Sen (2006) and Derenai (2007), the latter of which is an alternate director’s cut of a horror film called Onne (2006) that came before - all have had virtually no exposure outside Japan. However, it’s possible that these were pieces Fukui produced for the video company he worked for.

The story of an agoraphobic woman held prisoner in her own home, The Hiding disposed of the cyberpunk imagery that made Fukui infamous but continued his thematic exploration of the fragile and volatile nature of mental state. Shot on DV as opposed to film, The Hiding bares visual similarities to low-key work such as Visitor Q (Takashi Miike, 2001). However, Fukui’s follow-up project has taken him back to more familiar ground.

S-94 (2009) features the same industrial monochrome aesthetic that shaped the claustrophobic nightmare that was Rubber’s Lover. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where a virus has brought humankind to the brink of extinction, the half-hour short charts the violent collapse of two female survivors as they fight for the affections of a male survivor who arrives at their shelter. It’s the test run for a possible feature film (Fukui’s third) exploring similar territory, which may come about in the next couple of years.

The works of Shozin Fukui whilst haphazard, uneven and borderline unfathomable, provide a sensory experience that very few filmmaker’s are able to achieve, particularly with his two features. Themes and visuals frequently supersede plot, character development and sometimes logic, which is sometimes misinterpreted as being merely amateurish, but makes for a wild ride. His films are raw, experimental and filled with primal emotion, and although it’s debatable whether his work can be considered art or just a string of exploitative shocks (it’s probably a combination of the two), it’s twisted and intriguing independent cinema nonetheless. MP


2009 S-94
2008 The Hiding
2007 Derenai (?)
2006 Den-Sen (?)
1996 Rubber’s Lover
1991 964 Pinocchio
1988 Caterpillar
1986 Gerorisuto
1986 Metal Days

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