The most curious thing about writer/director Sogo Ishii’s Electric Dragon 80,000 V is just how well it starts, only to go drastically downhill. Ishii’s Electric Dragon is approximately 55 minutes long, including both opening and end credits, and is filmed in lush black and white reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ recent The Man Who Wasn’t There, but is by no means near that latter film’s master level of filmmaking.
Electric Dragon opens with a series of quick scenes revealing the childhood of one Dragon Eye Morrison (Tadanobu Asano), an average kid who likes to climb electrical towers for fun. One day Morrison is electrocuted while climbing one such tower, an event that jars the reptilian part of his brain, thus allowing him to not only communicate with animals, but unfortunately leaves him unable to control his “animal instincts.” As Morrison grows up, unable to control his anger and avoid fights, he’s constantly put through electrocution in order to “cure” him of his animalistic urges. Now an adult, Morrison relies on his trusty electric guitar to relive his stress and prevent him from going on a rampage. Enter Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase), a hitman who kills using electricity. It seems Buddha has a bone to pick with Morrison, and uses Morrison’s beloved lizard to draw Morrison out into a final battle to the death…
First of all, Electric Dragon is not as good, or as action-packed, or even as clever, as the above synopsis would have you believe. The movie works best in the beginning when we’re taking a trip through Morrison’s difficult childhood, but things take a turn for the worst from then on. The childhood sequences take up only 7 minutes of the movie’s entire 55-minute running length. From the 8th minute on, Electric Dragon takes a drastic dip in value and manages only to annoy with its loud and erratic soundtrack, which consists of various ways to manipulate the same loud banging and screeching noises. The movie does resurface some of its entertainment value towards the end, when Morrison and Buddha square off on a rooftop, but it’s a case of too little too late.
Tadanobu Asano (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl) plays the adult Morrison, whose name and penchant for wailing on a guitar I assume is some sort of homage to Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. Electric Dragon’s Morrison even wears black leather as a matter of course, but seems not to have much in the way of musical talent, since it’s terribly obvious Asano is just aimlessly strumming the guitar. Masatoshi Nagase, as the hitman Buddha, struts around the city wearing an electrician’s outfit with half of his face covered up by a golden Buddha mask. It looks very interesting at first, but gets old after a while, especially since all Buddha seems to do is walk around people’s rooftops or drive around the city in his van listening in on people’s phone conversations.
Electric Dragon is a mindless piece of filmmaking and writer/director Sogo Ishii mistakes sporadic bursts of nifty camera angles and movement, as well as a ruckus but musically unlistenable soundtrack, for plotting and “story.” After a very brief but highly entertaining opening sequence, the movie spends the next 40 or so minutes showing clouds rushing across the city’s skyline, Morrison running through alleys and sewers looking for his precious missing lizard, and Buddha walking to and fro looking “odd.” Oh, and there’s a slightly amusing Yakuza gangster character who walks around twirling his cellphone as if it was a revolver.
The movie even lets us down on its superhero aspect. Morrison is purported to be able to communicate with reptiles because of his accident, but we never see him doing any such thing. Instead, we’re told Morrison has this gift by way of flyers advertising his services as some kind of reptile expert. Buddha, too, is underdeveloped. Besides not giving us a single clue why Buddha is so obsessed with Morrison (until the very end, when the “reason” is finally revealed), Buddha’s one quirk seems to be that he’s really drawn to electricity, even to a point where he has to fight his own urges to shock himself. But the most disappointing aspect of Electric Dragon has to be the usage of the Morrison character, who really has nothing to do for 40 minutes except to run to and fro and wail on his guitar every now and then.
Some may confuse Electric Dragon’s mishmash of images and loud music for creativity, but others will see it as a poorly planned film that even at just 55 minutes seems much longer only because it’s so dreadfully dull. Besides the fact that the movie completely ignores so many of its possibilities, the film’s final climactic fight sequence at the end is, like the rest of the movie, underwhelming.
That doesn’t mean Electric Dragon is a total waste of time. Director Ishii’s visuals are very impressive, and cinematographer Norichimi Kasamatsu knows how to frame shots. Of course the movie’s crisp and clear visuals only further begs the question: with such an obviously big budget, why wasn’t more attention paid to the script? Or more importantly, was there even a script to begin with?
Sogo Ishii (director) / Sogo Ishii (screenplay)
CAST: Tadanobu Asano, Masatoshi Nagase