Taking a leaf out of TETSUO creator Shinya Tsukamoto’s book, Shozin Fukui immerses us in a ferocious cyberpunk nightmare, involving super-powered cyborgs, gloopy body horror, unexpected shifts of tone, and frenetic set pieces filmed with the power and subtlety of concentrated bleach on raw flesh.
Sex slave robot Pinocchio fails to produce the desired erection, and is thrown out by his nymphomaniac female owners. Mindless and vulnerable, he chances upon the apparently kindly Himiko, who shelters and feeds him. Herself an amnesiac, Himiko painstakingly tries to help Pinocchio to remember how to talk, which he manages after a while. Hot on their trail are the agents of the inventor/industrialist in charge of the “sex robot” business, eager to return the goods and repair their commodity for future use. Hiding away from the world, the odd couple begin to suffer outrageous body secretions before Himiko reveals her true, and shocking, purpose.
Although characterized by unstable, near stream-of-consciousness level cinematography, the basic structure of 964 PINOCCHIO is deceptively simple. After a confusing opening, which juxtaposes Pinocchio’s original capture/transformation with the fatalistic sex romp, the bald-headed hero makes the transition from baby (attempting to suck Himiko’s breast) through various stage of development, as he learns to talk, walk properly, until he can eventually fend for himself and even make love to Himiko.
This transition is an important part of the film’s thematic structure. Like another “outlaw couple” film belonging to a different genre, BONNIE & CLYDE (1967), the institutionalised males (Clyde coming from prison, Pinocchio from scientific experimentation) cannot “perform” by means of having lived under a system they feel constrained by. When they are liberated from the system, Clyde is ready for Bonnie, and Pinocchio is up for Himiko. By making Pinocchio a consumer object, however, Fukui pushes he direction of satire, some of which is unfortunately overstated.
Almost all of the characters in the film are overtly familiar, walking clichés whose actions are eminently predictable and worn. The industrialist/inventor will protect his investment at any cost, going to exaggerated lengths to do so; the frisky secretary is at his beck-and-call, going so far as spitting in his bowl of fruit to keep it wet (easier to digest?); the so-called agents aren’t too far away from being high school nerds - blank-faced and clueless. While this does allow the spectator to distance oneself from the fiction and to “read” the message, it robs the film of impact or invention and risks immaturity.
One of the key problems of the film has to be its very familiarity. Elements from outstanding films like TETSUO (robots fighting one another), Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION (a subway vomit and vaginal secretion scene involving Himiko, that may make viewers gip!), TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER (subdued colours and canted framing), are evident, and seem to have been pasted from various sources, their meaning diluted. Also, each of these sequences is overextended, dragging on and spoiling the film’s rhythm, and the Zulawski style “hysteria” scenes fail to impress. While films such as POSSESSION explore emotional pain through exaggerated vocal and bodily expressions, PINOCCHIO degenerates into little more than mindless screaming and unpleasant body melt.
TETSUO, in fact, makes an unflattering point of comparison. In lifting that monochrome nightmare’s climactic robot march through the city, Fukui misses the point. While the ending of TETSUO forced the inner mutation into the outside world (“Let’s rust the earth into the dust of the universe!”) as a liberating force for the previously jaded protagonists, PINOCCHIO misuses a similar scene. While Tsukamoto maintains the robot’s POV, so that the viewer can experience an amazing scene of exhilaration, Fukui allows the perspective to the outside, as Pinocchio, bolting through the streets is greeted by the amazement of onlookers, becoming little more than self-conscious spectacle.
In spite of this, the film is visually interesting, ranging from no frills Dogme-style handheld work, to stylised and hellish primary coloured interiors, and staccato cinematography – making the film at times eclectic and thrilling to look at. Although this enhances some of the more chaotically violent scenes, Fukui always remains a bit too clever for the material; characteristically pulling his camera away from is set pieces, often in an opposite direction to that which we are following.
Enthusiasts of the film will be pleased to know that it has been given a marvellous release by Unearthed Films, and the pin sharp picture quality allows this bizarre slice of extreme film to be fully appreciated. An acquired taste, then, just like Himiko’s vomit.
Directed by Shozin Fukui
Japanese with English subtitles / 1991 / 97 minutes / Colour
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An Unearthed Films DVD Release
1.33:1 / NTSC Region 1 / Dolby Digital 2.0