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Review © Tyler Robbins, 2006.

Directed by Shozin Fukui, 1991, 97 minutes, starring Hage Suzuki, Onn Chan, Kyoko Hara, Koji Kita, and Ranyaku Mikutei.

Shozin Fukui has a reasonably short resumé in the film world. But quantity does not merit quality, and for Fukui this is most certainly applicable and definitely working in his favour. His 1996 film Rubber's Lover, is the story of - well, you know - mostly just a big old stew of sadism, torture, and sexual promiscuity. All are common themes, it seems, in Japan's cyberpunk genre, a nice niche where Fukui fits very, very, very well. That film, though, works in the traditional realms of cyberpunk established by the be-all and end-all of this genre, Tetsuo:The Iron Man. Taking from Tetsuo both an obscure choice of soundtrack and a gloomy palette of the black and white variety, Rubber's Lover was a "typical" cyberpunk film (if there were such a thing). But Pinocchio 964, Fukui's earlier release (known widely as Screams Of Blasphemy), goes against type by having a surprisingly delicate (especially by this genre's standards) soundtrack, and by being filmed in glorious full technicolor (oh the wonder!).

As is the standard of being cyberpunk by definition, Pinocchio 964 is full of all those things that make it exactly that: sex that is neither appealing nor particularly important to the plot; shots of human bodies being both penetrated and adversely expulsing liters of bodily fluids (not necessarily their own); and, most importantly, huge montages of freaked-out insanity that last for far too long, and yet which end far too soon. The acting is very polar - you're left either with insane characters that are as over the top as could be expected for a film with a plot like this, or else with characters that are sorely underacted and placidly dull. Luckily, our protagonist (played by Hage Suzuki with just the right measure of disjointed mental illness-plus-lack of social skills) figures largely into the film, and ultimately overshadows the reasonably mixed bag of supporting characters, while never allowing the thoughtful soundtrack and far-too-close close ups to overshadow the lost soul of Pinocchio 964.

Synopsis 

Someone's left dry ice in a dark place. Perhaps it's a new way of capturing mice in the sewers, albeit a particularly torturous way. We zoom in on the ice as it fogs up the screen. What is this about? Will we see the mice burned from the new inhumane trap set out for them? Will someone turn on the light? Never mind, here's some people having sex. It's a reasonably good looking male, and what I assume would be considered two attractive females. They're doing things to each other. What will they do next? Will it be as cool as what they just did? Why are those ladies wearing aprons?

And now, someone's getting slapped. It's the man! (I hope this means some continuity's on the way!) Or as he's to be more well-known throughout the rest of this film, it's Pinocchio 964 (Suzuki). A man reassures 964, "You won't remember a thing". The women have disappeared, as has the bed their exploits were set in, and he's in a strange chair, and everything moves just fast enough to keep the viewer from seeing what's actually going on. Until - BAM! There goes a drill, into 964's head, no less. His memory is gone, his will has left him, and as far as we're concerned, he's just another sex slave on the black market of Japan. Hot times ahead!

Moments after the experiment (or longer, we don't know, we don't need to), one of the nurses (presumably) who also happened to be having sex just moments ago with the Pinocchio (I sorrowly lack these sort of coincidences) drags him out of the facility and out onto the sidewalk. As she walks away (revealing that she's still wearing nothing under that apron), 964 rolls around on the pavement, occasionally making some sort of grunting noise, and all around looking like the saddest sexbot in the world. And this is where the jokes end (okay, some of them do) and the real plot of the film begins...

There's a vaguely familiar woman (Onn Chan, who is quite possibly, I tell the truth, the Japanese equivalent to America's Lung Leg) slumped against a street pole somewhere in a Japanese downtown. She's looking at the people through binoculars, looking for something the viewer doesn't really know yet. And that's when she sees him. Lumbering towards her with a spike of hair in the front that proves this is an area of Japan with particularly low humidity, 964 comes into her telescopic range. She puts her hand to her head in a particularly dramatic fashion. It's as though she remembers him... or does she? Her name is Kyoko, and as we soon learn, she too is an amnesiac like 964. He stumbles and falls in her lap, making noises like a toddler, and so Kyoko thinks it's a good time to get a roommate. Leading him through underground industrial corridors in some massive complex with the most piping ever seen by anyone ever, they finally stumble into a tiny cramped closet - her home.

Quickly Kyoko attempts to teach him to speak. Cleaning him, she finds the tattoo on his back - Pinocchio 964, no less. She looks up the word in a Japanese/English dictionary, and tries diligently to pass along some knowledge of language. He can't understand; he won't. Kyoko is frustrated, but presses forward. [Insert gratuitous lesbian sex scene here]. At the grocery store 964 is clueless; he just doesn't get it. But then (wait for it): he does. From this point, he learns his name out of nowhere. And instantaneously, recovers other language too. "Who am I?" he asks, after Kyoko just told him his name. "Why am I here?" he ponders, after Kyoko just led him down the maze of industrial piping. That drill really did quite the number on his brain. And mine.

At this point, the film finally takes off in what I expect was where the direction most "genre fans" wanted to see in the first place. The government agency that created 964 sends out its goons, and the mystery begins to unfold. There's not much more of a plot to talk about without giving away the best parts of the film (or at least the most memorable parts). There's a sadist who, so as not to spoil his illegal operation, originally threw out both 964 and the evil laboratory head who is out to recover his lost cyborg. Throw in a few grating soundscapes in the background, a little string music, the best make out scene ever, grossness slathered on top of grossness, and you've got yourself one darn interesting movie.

All joking aside, it's clear to see that Fukui attempted to try to create an environment not just of techno-isolation, but also to dispel the mythos created by Tetsuo; this is a very different film. Where Tetsuo had darkness and shadows, this is a film of light and bright color. Where Tsukamoto created isolation through the minimalist means of showing only the characters important to the plot, Fukui brilliantly does so with literally thousands of average Japanese citizens walking around amidst 964's personal chaos. And, almost uniquely in Japanese cyberpunk, the film has a definitive conclusion. Unlike Tetsuo, which simply left viewers disoriented, in the end, we get a redeeming sense of closure for the hour and twenty minutes that led up to that point. It's a satisfying quirk of Fukui's brilliance, and it plays perfectly in attempting (whether he'd wanted to or not) to bridge the gap between the art house snobs for whom this film was initially showcased, and those mainstream cinemagoers who would eventually come to appreciate it ten years on.

And that's where the strength of Pinocchio 964 comes from - this is a different kind of cyberpunk film. Even with all the shared characteristics amongst the genre as a whole (*cough* ridiculous gratuitous sex scenes *cough*), this a film in which you're shown things which, up until that point in time, were reasonably original and surprising. Fukui is good at what he does with this medium, and it shows in his follow-up, Rubber's Lover. Incidentally, it's very apparent that Rubber's Lover works as a sort of prequel to Pinocchio 964; despite the reverse chronology, watching that film shows the means for creating these sorts of soulless men. This film shows the result of those tragic experiments, and one man's really colourful, grotesque spiral as a result of someone else's God complex.

That, and gratuitous lesbian sex scenes.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Violence: 6/10
Chills: 2/10
Gross-outs: 10/10
Sex: 7/10 - but no worries, it's all lady parts, fellas!
Pinocchio's nose: disappointingly average/10
Kyoko: ew, girl, ew!
A-Ko The Whiny Sadist: that perm wouldn't fly in 2006, let alone 1991, girlfriend
Japanese Cyberpunk: "We do what we want!"

Films in a Similar Style: Rubber's Lover. Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Electric Dragon 80,000V.

*** Recommended. Especially for aficionados of gratuitous lesbians ***

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964 Pinocchio Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2006

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Shozin Fukui

Links

http://www.unearthedfilms.com/ - Unearthed Films has released Pinocchio 964 as the Region 1 disc (that includes Fukui's short 1988 film Caterpillar) that I viewed for this review
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/scifi/pinocchio964/pinocchio964.html - a spot-on review from KFC Cinema that I think I'll stand behind
http://www.cyberpunkreview.com/movie/decade/1990-1999/964-pinocchio/ - a comprehensive review from the experts at Cyperpunkreview
http://www.dvdmaniacs.net/Reviews/M-P/pinocchio964.html - DVD Maniacs give it a 4/5
http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=13733 - a surprisingly thoughtful review from DVD Talk
http://www.horrorchannel.com/mo...&id=377 - a joint review with Rubber's Lover that does neither any real justice


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