Review © Mandi Apple, 2006.

Directed by Shozin Fukui, 1996, 90 minutes, starring Kawase Youta, Nao, Ameya Norimizu, Saitou Sousuke, Kunihiro Mika and Zeeko Uchiyama.

Brutal, unnerving, fetishistic and beautiful, perhaps less intellectually challenging than Tetsuo: The Iron Man and yet still an obvious influence on Sogo Ishii's remarkable Electric Dragon 80000V, Shozin Fukui's 1996 work Rubber's Lover is a very worthy entrant in the cyberpunk genre. Unlike either of those two movies, however, it is a work even more closely focused on the subject of the flesh: several times the viewer is subjected to shots of various unpleasant bodily fluids splattering all over the camera in a bid to draw the audience into the whole repulsive act, to make us complicit and to share the in-your-face, harsh nature of the experimentation. As its title would also suggest, the film also relies heavily on the concept of medical fetishisation. In every element of the story, there are very unsubtle nods to BDSM practices, such as the rubber suits, the revolving phallic ether 'machine gun' which is used to administer rectal dosages of the drug, and the frilly 'naughty nurse' who just happens to be a total psycho - all examples of the kind of thing you might find in the repertoire of a professional medical dominatrix.

One motif that Rubber's Lover does share with Tetsuo is the making of a kind of Nietzschean ubermensch: whereas in Tsukamoto's groundbreaking work this is achieved by the coming together of flesh with metal to form a symbiotic partnership in order to reform the world into a visionary model, in this movie it's achieved by creating a super-strong being with immeasurable psychic powers - who also has a plan for world domination, but through entirely different means.

However, to its slight detriment Rubber's Lover feels curiously detached, as an overall piece. The acting is highly odd: the female characters seem collectively aloof and unemotional, whilst the male characters ham it up wildly, for no apparent good reason. Even the supremely nasty Akari, the frilly PVC maid dominatrix bondage nurse played by Kunihiro Mika, seems so jaded as to be perfectly unaffected by pretty much everything which is happening, which is thoroughly strange given the circumstances.

That said, the music and sound effects and visuals more than make up for what the acting lacks; although sparsely used, the music is nerve-jangling and occasionally painfully loud and harsh, suiting the high-contrast black and white artistic visuals perfectly with clattering abstract industrial tone. As for the cinematography, it's beautifully shot, with excellent use of the kinetic, illusory and hyperreal style of filming and a wonderful eye for geometrically composed shots. Some of the imagery is impressively iconic and all the shots are lit gorgeously, giving the viewer a real visual treat. However, interestingly, many of the sequences are paced a lot slower than most other cyberpunk movies I've seen, which allows the situations to grow naturally rather than being continually beaten in the face with information, and adds the extra dimension of a more varied dynamic.

Synopsis

In a plush office, the two leaders of a laboratory running a rather shady project, named Motomiya and Hitotsubashi, are being called in to answer for their lack of reporting, and indeed results. The boss of the extremely powerful organisation behind the lab, Mr Tanizaki, is threatening to cut off their funding because their methods are sloppy and they aren't even sending in their reports and findings any more.

It transpires that their experiments are questionable, to put it mildly: they are utilising forms of psychological and physical torture, using an intense form of sonic bombardment known as D.D.D. (Digital Direct Drive) and also drugging their subjects with ether, to try to produce psychic powers in their human test subjects. Unfortunately, despite getting the required results, this tends to kill the test subjects stone dead: the D.D.D. drives them insane and the ether's side effects do the rest.

The experiments blend physical and sexual violence (often doled out by a scary-looking frilly maid in PVC with goggles named Akari), brutality and abuse with drug-induced disorientation, mental torment, and intolerable sound frequencies, to produce an unleashing of dangerous levels of psychokinesis. (Sounds more like the effects of an Ibiza club night out to me, but hey. ;-))

To prove their boss's point, their experiment on their final test subject went horribly wrong thanks to an overdose of ether meted out by Akari: the subject simply explodes in a fountain of black nasty pus all over them. This, it transpires later, was intended to happen by Motomiya - he had spent a long time building up the subject's resistance with sedatives before giving him a final massive dose of ether to prove that it's the drug, not the D.D.D., that does the worst damage - and Motomiya has been secretly pumping his colleague Shimiko full of the stuff.

Since, according to Motomiya, apparently 'normal' people won't do for these tests and only people with existing psychic abilities will give the best results, their supply of guinea pigs is drying up fast. However, Hitotsubashi contends this quite keenly, claiming that it's only the combination of sonic assault and ether that does the trick, and could produce the same effect in anyone whatsoever.

Either way, you can colour the big boss unimpressed, since his two utterly useless scientists are killing off an awful lot of people. So he removes his financing and tries to shut down the entire project. The boss's secretary has been told to give the dastardly duo a week to vacate the research centre, after collecting all the available data from the project. Naturally, the two researchers and their fellow scientist Shimika are not best pleased, and beg to be given one last experimental subject to test the combined effects of ether and D.D.D. (replete with the new soundwave that Hitotsubashi has been working on) out on, to show their amazing results.

Unfortunately, since the bosses won't provide a last test subject, they elect mutiny, holding the secretary hostage and choosing the hapless Shimika to be their showcase specimen. No great surprise, then, that since Motomiya and Hitotsubashi have removed Shimika's source of ether, he goes cold-turkey on them, beginning his fateful journey into complete physical and psychological torture: it's not long before our nasty nurse Akari comes along with her machine-gun full of ether and pumps a round into his stomach. Then it's off to the jolly old lab with Shimika, for a high-concentration dose of Celine Dion - I mean, D.D.D. ;-)

However, somehow during the course of the horrible sonic agony he manages to link psychically with Kiku, the poor old secretary, who makes the fatal mistake of becoming curious about what is going on downstairs, in the room with the flashing warning lights outside it. A very bad move? You bet. She discovers the secret experimentation, and Motomiya rapes her. But she is still psychically connected to Shimika, whose terrifyingly destructive psychic powers are about to be let loose. Things can only get worse: not only has Hitotsubashi himself begun to indulge himself in the delights of ether, convinced to the end that it's ether and ether alone that unleashes a person's latent psychic abilities, but Motomiya is also becoming dangerously unbalanced by his work, now claiming that he is also psychic.They haven't as yet realised that Shimika, the only test subject ever to have survived the onslaught, is unnaturally strong and resistant to the side-effects - which may well be their undoing.

Rubber's Lover plays at times like a weird Japanese update of the old Frankenstein's monster story, but with the addition of the motive of deviant sexual violence and hitherto unrealised psychic power. For instance, the inclusion of a thoroughly unnecessary and very graphic rape scene seems to have been kind of thrown in to give the piece even more brutality and sexual violence than its overtones of BDSM were already affording it. Clearly Shozin Fukui's only real mandate was to make the movie as shocking, disgusting and horrific as possible, in any way possible.

Despite being devoid of the emotional and cultural complexity of a work like Tetsuo, Rubber's Lover is still not a piece to be approached lightly, rife as it is with unsettling themes of torture, perversity, sadism and sexual deviance. It looks beautiful in the disturbingly industrial way we've come to expect from cyberpunk, but with meandering hallucinatory and trancelike sequences which add to its surrealistic attraction. Not for the faint-hearted or prudish, but a perversely rewarding watch for all that.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment: 6/10
Violence: 10/10
Chills: 5/10
Gross-outs: 8/10
Sex: 2/10 - surprisingly little, for a fetish-style movie named Rubber's Lover
Akari: not a registered qualified nurse, I'm sure ;-)
Gimps: 1, but he's a good 'un
Ether: best administered rectally, apparently
Full Body Rubber Outfits: mmmmm, sweaty ;-)

Films in a Similar Style: 964 Pinocchio, Gerorisuto, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Electric Dragon 80000V, Flower of Flesh and Blood

*** Headache-inducingly noisy, but recommended ***

Rubber's Lover Wallpaper
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Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Shozin Fukui

Links

http://unearthedfilms.com/ - Rubber's Lover has been released by Unearthed Films - you can find a trailer, info and stills from the movie here
http://www.cyberpunkreview.com/movie/decade/1990-1999/rubbers-lover/ - Cyberpunkreview are right on the money
http://uk.filmforce.ign.com/articles/601/601812p1.html - an indepth review at IGN
http://www.fjmovie.com/horror/t4/06.html - fact file at FJ Movie
http://www.dvdmaniacs.net/Reviews/Q-T/rubbers_lover.html - DVDManiacs pretty much felt the same way about it as I did
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/scifi/rubberslover/rubberslove.html - as ever, a good summary at KFCC
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shozin_Fukui - brief biography of Shozin Fukui at Wikipedia

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