Midnight Eye doesn’t post often — the site hasn’t been updated since May 2011 — but when they do, it’s a doozy. Case in point, this fascinating essay on directors like Shinya Tsukamoto, Shozin Fukui, Sogo Ishii, and films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Electric Dragon 80,000V, Akira, and Rubber’s Lover.
The world of live-action Japanese cyberpunk is a twisted and strange one indeed; a far cry from the established notions of computer hackers, ubiquitous technologies and domineering conglomerates as found in the pages of William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) - a pivotal cyberpunk text during the sub-genre's formation and recognition in the early eighties. From a cinematic standpoint, it perhaps owes more to the industrial gothic of David Lynch's Eraserhead (1976) and the psycho-sexual body horror of early David Cronenberg than the rain-soaked metropolis of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), although Scott's neon infused tech-noir has been a major aesthetic touchstone for cyberpunk manga and anime institutions such as Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (1982-90) and Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell (1989- ).
In the Western world, cyberpunk was born out of the new wave science fiction literature of the sixties and seventies; authors such Harlan Ellison, J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick - whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) was the basis for Blade Runner - were key proponents in its inception, creating worlds that featured artificial life, social decay and technological dependency. The hard-boiled detective novels of Dashiell Hammett also proved influential with regards to the sub-genre's overall pessimistic stance. What came to be known as cyberpunk by the mid 1980s was thematically characterised by its exploration of the impact of high-technology on low-lives - people living in squalor; stacked on top of one another within an oppressive metropolis dominated by advanced technologies.
Live-action, Japanese cyberpunk on the other hand, is raw and primal by nature, and characterised by attitude rather than high-concept. A collision between flesh and metal, the sub-genre is an explosion of sex, violence, concrete and machinery; a small collection of pocket-sized universes that revel in post-human nightmares and teratological fetishes, powered by a boundaryless sense of invasiveness and violation. Imagery is abject, perverse and unpredictable and, like Cronenberg's work, bodily mutation through technological intervention is a major theme, as are dehumanisation, repression and sexuality.