964 Pinocchio

1991 / 97m - Japan
Sci-fi, Horror
964 Pinocchio poster

Shozin Fukui is one of Japan's hidden cyberpunk talents. After a period of experimentation that resulted in three short films, he burst onto the scene with his first full-length feature film: 964 Pinocchio. It's not what you call a very accessible film, probably one of the most relentless films I know, but cyberpunk fans really owe it to themselves to check it out as it takes the whole punk atmosphere to a new level.

screen capture of 964 Pinocchio

When people are talking about Japanese cyberpunk (not your everyday conversation topic, but still) the conversation inevitably centers around Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo, Vital, Tetsuo: Bullet Man, Nightmare Detective 2 and Sogo Ishii (Dead End Run, Kyoshin, Electric Dragon 80000V, August In The Water). Dig any deeper and you're likely to encounter Fukui's name as he firmly holds the third spot in this obscure niche. Not because his films are worse than Tsukamoto's or Ishii's, but because they require that much more patience to sit through.

You better be aware that Fukui isn't going to make it easy on you. 964 Pinocchio is meticulously tailored to weigh on its audience. Even though the film doesn't quite pass the 100-minute mark, you're sure to be completely exhausted when the end credits finally grace the screen. Not so much because Fukui craves visual intensity and/or insanity (though there is that too), but because the constant presence of screaming, yelling, grunting, and whining bears its own unique sense of torture.

Story-wise there isn't that much to tell really. 964 Pinocchio is a defunct sexbot model who's thrown on the street by a dissatisfied customer. He is picked up by a young homeless woman who takes him to her den and tries to educate him. In the meantime, 964's creators are trying to locate their bot as their service is supposed to be shrouded in secrecy and they can't have one of their bots running around in the wild. Things go bad when 964 and the lady spend a wild night together, what happens afterward is a slice of hard-to-explain cyberpunk insanity that is better left seen than explained.

screen capture of 964 Pinocchio

Visually 964 Pinocchio isn't as polished as Tsukamoto's or Ishii's punk films. This is clearly low-budget territory and as a result, the first half of the film (most scenes shot in the open air) can be quite ugly. Once inside Fukui has an easier time controlling the lighting. Add some smoke and suddenly it all becomes much easier to stomach. The finale is once again filmed outside, but by then Fukui is so caught up in his editing frenzy that you probably won't even notice the quality of the images anymore. It's definitely a good thing he is quite capable as an editor.

But it's the soundtrack that makes this film into one of the most uncompromising cyberpunk films I've ever seen. The final 45 minutes is one single fucked up mix of industrial-minded audio tracks blended with the continuous grunting and screaming coming from the actors. Rather than the manic visuals, it's the soundtrack that will wear you out and becomes hard to bear, especially when the film is nearing its end. Many people will hate the film for this, but for me, it's without a doubt 964 Pinocchio's biggest selling point.

The acting is ... expressive. There is no room for subtlety or smaller emotions. Everything is grand, from simple gestures to facial expressions. It fits the film and helps to increase the overall madness, then again if you can't get into the film it will only add to the overall frustration. There's also a certain manga-like quality to the characters (964's creator in particular) that might make it harder for Western audiences to get a grip on this film.

screen capture of 964 Pinocchio

964 Pinocchio is somewhat of an endurance test. Many people don't seek that in a film and if you are one of them it's best to stay clear of this one altogether because there won't be anything here to enjoy. On the other hand, it's one of the few films that manages to have a physical effect on its audiences, something I can truly appreciate. To endure is to overcome, and once the film is finished you do feel somehow reborn.

964 Pinocchio may have found its way out of the underground through the rather impressive feat that it holds the longest vomit scene ever recorded on film (yay for that!), but the film has a lot more to offer. The fact is that only a very small audience will appreciate the perks of this film. If you're not sure whether this film will appeal to you it's probably better to check out films like Tetsuo or Electric Dragon 80000V first, if you're a seasoned cyberpunk fan and you haven't seen this though it's a 100% recommendation. Just know what you're getting yourself into.