Japanese maverick Shinya Tsukamoto’s customary obsession with man driven to extremes in a hostile environment gets a routine retread in “Bullet Ballet.” The director’s tighter, more visceral previous films — notably “Tetsuo,” its sequel and the more recent “Tokyo Fist” — have consistently found an international cult niche. But while some may respond to the new thriller’s brooding B&W visuals and its spasmodic bursts of hammering violence, most followers of the director will see it merely as more of the same.
Depicting Tokyo as a violent dreamscape through which the protagonist drifts in an aimless, frustrating search for revenge, the film centers on Goda (Tsukamoto). Mourning the loss of his lover of 10 years (Kyoka Suzuki), he obsesses about the reasons for her suicide and the ways in which he may have contributed. Attempting unsuccessfully to procure a gun, Goda begins wandering the streets at night, encountering Chisato (Kirina Mano), a street-gang floozy whose cohorts promptly give him a trouncing.
Maintaining a highly erratic grasp of plot, the script repeatedly throws Goda in the path of the street gang, but he is unable to connect with the target of his revenge. His attempts to kill the gang leader result in failure and, rather repetitively, in further brutal beatings, while his increasing self-loathing prompts suicidal urges that he is also too impotent to act upon.
Gradually, however, an odd connection forms with Chisato, and when her life is endangered in inter-gang warfare, Goda steps into the fray.
Tsukamoto weaves in elements of metal, machinery and mutilation familiar from his other films, this time in a less frenetic style that exposes the weaknesses of the fragile narrative and impenetrable characters.
But the director nonetheless sustains a chilly, disquieting mood with his choppy editing and a cranked-up soundtrack of hard, metallic noise.