964 PINOCCHIO's creator Shojin Fukui returns to the bizarre cyber-splatter format that brought him so much success, with the likewise disturbing companion piece RUBBER'S LOVER. While Fukui strips down the staccato camerawork and saturated colour schemes of the previous gloop epic with stark black-and-white, this is in no way a minimalist film, as the extended sequences of mental and physical torture exemplify. Nasty stuff, then, which should provide an endurance test for even hardened viewers of sci-fi guinea pig torture. But with the tagline “Psychic power is realized when mental anguish exceeds physical pain”, you know what you’re letting yourself in for.
Scientists Shimika and Hitotshubashi are running a program to discover the powers of the human mind, and are warned by their bosses that the controversial work they are doing is in jeopardy of being scrapped. Getting back to the laboratory, they test human guinea pigs with a VIDEODROME type headset called the Digital Direct drive, combined with the drug ether, to discover and amplify psychic powers. They and co-worker Motoyima are visited by boss’s fiancé and secretary Kiku, who informs them that the decision has hastily been made to shut down the operation.
Since the previous test subject had been overdosed, causing him to explode, Shimika is waylaid by his teammates to act as a substitute. The desperate Hitotshubashi and Motoyima thus direct their experiments upon him, as they search for a breakthrough to extend their time. Kiku soon cottons on to the situation, but is beaten and raped by Motoyima. In the aftermath of the attack, the two put Shimika through the DDD/ether process, during which their true colours are revealed. While Hitotshubashi truly believes in his work, using any means to justify the end, Motoyima turns out to be a power crazed maniac hell bent on rape and torture. Meanwhile, Shimika’s powers are increased and he awakes in a deranged mood…
Despite being centred on the subject scientific experimentation, RUBBER’S LOVER is by no means interested in science, or even the winning Cronenberg-style combination of science and horror. Instead, the premise acts as an excuse for its characters to indulge in acts of torture and mutilation. While some experts view this as a brave decision to honour the very essence of horror, confronting the viewer with a concentrated version of the violence one expects whether it is liked or not, there is a more valid interpretation in this case. The constant instances of gleeful sadism on display, such as the female assistant licking, choking, and generally abusing a screaming, bandaged test patient, comes across as nasty and immature. Indeed, after the character in question has been warned not to excite the patient, we can add superficial to the list, too.
As the cyborg horror 964 PINOCCHIO affirmed (see review below), director Fukui is heavily indebted to the works of Shinya Tsukamoto. His decision to shoot in harsh contrasts of black-and-white, thus, marks an effort both aesthetic and thematic, to confront the influence of TETSUO: THE IRON MAN through his own work. What made that film so exciting, however, was Tsukamoto’s decision to use the theme of cyborg transformation as a reaction of both mind and body to a deadening industrial and bland concrete environment. While RUBBER’S LOVER is concerned rather with telekinesis, it shares a similar concern with (super) empowerment, but the eagerness of its characters to create a man with extraordinary powers reflects Fukui’s own strained efforts to “do a Tsukamoto,” or rather to “do a TETSUO”.
In spite of this, the film features some interesting and creative visual devices, including a striking DAY OF THE DEAD style underground research facility, and Fukui as ever demonstrates an ability to conjure startling images through light, shade and camera placement. His juxtaposition of images is particularly impressive, preferring to jar and agitate the viewer by means of a collision style – matching dark images with brighter ones, and symmetrical compositions with off centre pictures – and is heightened by an odd experimental soundtrack that at times adds a kind of exhilaration to a film that nevertheless seems to go too far with not enough meaning.
Directed by Shojin Fukui
Japanese with English subtitles / 1996 / 90 minutes / Black and White
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An Unearthed Films DVD Release
1.33:1 / NTSC Region 1 / Dolby Digital 2.0