Contact Us Hong Kong Digital #251: Bullet Ballet

Issue #251          HOME          Contact Us        BACK ISSUES           February 14th, 2005

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Bullet Ballet
(1998; Kaijyu Theater/Tsukamoto Shinya)

Shinya Tsukamoto Shinya Tsukamoto Shinya Tsukamoto (left), Karina Mano

RATING: 7/10


Meek TV commercial director Goda (Shinya Tsukamoto, who also wrote and directed) comes home one evening to find that his fiancee has committed suicide using a gun. At a complete loss as to why she would do this, he determines to get his own weapon, the same kind that she used, hoping that this will help him understand. Handguns are forbidden in Japan, so he tries to purchase one on the black market, but ends up being cheated. Undaunted, Goda is eventually able to build one of his own design, but it turns out to be only slightly more powerful than a water pistol. Although he is beaten and tormented by a street gang, Goda finds himself strangely drawn towards them, particularly the androgynous, suicidal Chisato (Kirina Mano). Goda finally does get his hands on a real gun, though it brings him no closer to what he craves.

Kirina Mano (left), Takahiro Murase Kirina Mano Shinya Tsukamoto

A characteristically intense and tightly edited Tsukamoto effort, BULLET BALLET has a look and style reminiscent of the original TETSUO, with its dark, metallic, back-alley milieu, sadomasochistic pain, transformation through violent physicality, and the omnipresent sterility of metropolitan life. The director also again explores his pet theme of the interaction between the human body and the city. That said, BULLET BALLET ends up surprising the viewer, as it starts somewhat reminiscent of TAXI DRIVER, but eventually takes another path altogether. Of course, the more cryptic elements of the storyline (like the identity of the individual sending a series of e-mails) and fuzzy character arcs also contribute in that regard (the director admits in an interview included on the DVD that visuals and the concept were his main priorities here). My interpretation is that the events of the film cause the Goda and Chisato characters (both obsessed with death and destruction, his focusing outward, hers inward) to see a value and purpose in life that was never so clearly apparent to them before. One could look at BULLET BALLET as a bleak, nihilistic, depressing experience, but the audience must experience these sensations right along with the two protagonists in order to make their transformation a more appreciable one. Therein lies much of the film’s success: we may not always know where things are heading, but Tsukamoto uses his mastery of image and editing to keep us locked in via a forceful sensory experience that gradually transmutes into an equally raw emotional one. Takahiro Murase and the incredibly ubiquitous Tomorowo Taguchi (Chapman To has nothing on this guy!) co-star.


The black and white image seems to be an accurate rendition of the dark, high contrast cinematography and the audio mix is almost as distinctive and arresting. Tom Mes (who has authored a book on Tsukamoto’s films, in addition to his tome on Takashi Miike) provides another fine commentary, covering the director’s working methods, casting, the production’s history (unlike the vast majority of low-budget Japanese films, many of the street sequences were shot with official permission), and other relevant subjects. Tsukamoto is also featured in the aforementioned interview (35 minutes), and there are bios/filmographies, a single page promotional material section, and two trailers. Like many Artsmagic discs, the layer change point has been dropped in seemingly at random and interferes with a music cue.

This DVD is available at Amazon:

Images in this review courtesy of Artsmagic. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 1 Only
  • Artsmagic #ATU 016
  • Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Japanese Language Track
  • Subtitles (Optional): English
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (1.78:1)
  • 87 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • France: -16
  • Great Britain: 15
  • Japan: R-15
  • South Korea: 15
  • Contains moderate violence, coarse language, and substance abuse


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful