Writer/director/actor Shinya Tsukamoto is still best known to genre fans as the man behind 1989’s mind-melting, metal-bending body horror Tetsuo: The Iron Man. While Tetsuo is almost certainly his masterpiece, the rest of his filmography is long overdue a re-evaluation. Third Window’s Blu-ray restorations of Tokyo Fist (1995) and Bullet Ballet (1998) are a fantastic reminder of the raw power of his work.
Tsuda (Shinya Tsukamoto) works long hours at a dreary job before going home to his fiancee Hizuru (Kaori Fujii) to fall asleep watching television. One day, he meets his old schoolfriend Kojima (the director’s brother, Kôji Tsukamoto) who is training as a boxer. Kojima quickly makes his interest in Hizuru apparent, and the resulting masculine struggle quickly becomes a violent game of one-up-manship.
In an interview in the special features, Tsukamoto explains that he was inspired to make Tokyo Fist when critics told him that he had made films about how people were affected by the city. The Tokyo of the film is a towering metropolis in which the skyscrapers seem to lean inwards rather than up as Tsuda makes his endless rounds before meeting Kojima.
Although it has the structure of a boxing movie, Tokyo Fist only uses the bare bones of that subgenre to tell a body horror story about repressed rage and unfulfilment. None of the three main characters are living the life they want. Tsuda’s crushing routine leads to him feeling lethargic, while Kojima’s success in the ring isn’t all he makes it out to be. More to the point, there’s an old buried secret tying the two men together that lies behind Kojima’s desire to make Tsuda unleash his rage.
Boxing, and the masculine pride that goes with it, becomes the key to the characters’ identities but, by excluding the woman they’re fighting for from this contest, they prompt her exploration of herself in other ways.
Neither of the two men know what to do about Hizuru. She’s an object of desire for both of them, but their violent encounters lead to her discovering a side of herself that scares them deeply. Her own bloodlust is frustrated by Tsuda and Kojima’s focus on each other. She’s not interested in being a prize. Fujii delivers a stunning performance and dominates the film every time she’s on screen.
As the film builds towards its blood-soaked conclusion, Tsukamoto’s visual style is just as gripping as it ever was. The blistering camera work and striking use of colour clearly influenced later directors like Nicolas Winding Refn, and it places the story just beyond the mundanity of the everyday world and into somewhere more unsettling.
Tokyo Fist is a gripping story of repressed emotion being released in violent and gruesome ways. It’s very well-performed, stunningly shot and extremely powerful. This is a fantastic restoration of an excellent film that’s ripe for rediscovery, and fans of Tsukamoto should seek it out immeditaely.