In this series, we’ve talked about Japanese anime and the influenced of 80s Asian high-tech urbanism on first wave cyberpunk (and beyond). But you may not realize that Japan had its own cyberpunk cinematic moment in the 80s and 90s, with films like the cyberpunk body horror of Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer by Shinya Tsukamoto, the proto-cyberpunk biker films of Sogo Ishii (which would influence Akira), and the guerilla films of Shozin Fukui (who was a student of both Tsukamoto and Ishii).
Dazed has a good piece on Japanese cyberpunk that focuses on the work of these three innovators.
In the mid-80s, the Japanese film industry was at an all-time low. Several of the major studios had gone bankrupt, and the ones that remained had either focused their attentions to softcore pornography or suspended production entirely in favour of distributing Hollywood imports. Even the most well-established directors struggled to secure funding. And independent cinema just wasn’t economically viable.
The Japanese “cyberpunk” movement was a product of this filmographic impotence, and a total rejection of the traditions of Japanese cinema that had preceded it. The period dramas of Yasujiro Ozu, the samurai epics of Akira Kurosawa, and even the documentary-style yakuza dramas of Kinji Fukasaku had no place in a 1980s Japan that was experiencing a world-renowned technological revolution. Instead, a new generation of filmmakers with a critical view of the hyper-modern world were picking up video cameras as a means to attack the country’s shifting identity, creating wild dystopias that foreshadowed the economic crash that would hit Japan in the 90s.
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