It’s been a while since I watched what I’d call a “Weird Japan” movie – a Japanese film with a degree of creativity and un-reality that is uncommon in Western cinema – and indeed is generally rejected outright in Western independent cinema (see Dogme ’95 and Ethan Hawke’s comments about superhero films). Instead, these films openly embrace science fiction, fantasy, and horror concepts in a way that Western independent cinema (outside of horror) fails to do.
Electric Dragon 80,000V fits into this category. The film is also short, clocking in at under an hour. I suspect, at least in part, this is due to a lot of the budget going to the presentation of the plot.
The film follows two characters, who are also the majority of the film’s cast. The first is “Dragon Eye” Morrison (Tadanobu Asano), the film’s protagonist. Morrison was electrocuted while climbing a high voltage tower as a child, which in turn gave him anger management issues, which in turn lead to him receiving repeated administration of electroshock therapy, which in turn lead to him developing the ability to control electricity, though when he loses his temper he loses control over his electricity. However, he’s learned to control his anger through playing an electric guitar, and he makes a living by looking for lost reptiles (in addition to keeping some lizards as companion animals) – if for some reason the pun wasn’t already clear.
I have to give the film some real credit, when it comes to the presentation of Morrison’s backstory, as the film takes really clear steps to treat electroshock therapy as being inhumane (which it is). Whenever treatment is being given to Morrison, he’s drug down a cold concrete corridor that feels less clinical and more like it’s out of a prison, sat down in a chair, and after the shock is administered he’s left to drop to the floor like a piece of meat, with no actual safety precautions being carried out. Is it realistic to how the treatment is administered? No. Does it send the message that maybe electroshock therapy is a shitty thing to do to a person? Absolutely.
Morrison’s rival is Thunderbolt Buddha (Masatoshi Nagase), who has the same powers (but through a different origin), and is able to control them better. He’s shown channeling his power through a satellite dish to listen in on phone calls, and his day job is TV repair. Additionally, Thunderbolt Buddha is also a little more active in the use of his powers, as he hunts down gangsters by night and murders them using his abilities – on top of wearing a half-mask modeled on the face of the Buddha.
This sets up the dichotomy of the story – Dragon Eye cannot control his powers well and is content to live a relatively low profile life, with the sole exception of his rock-star attire and his loud guitar playing. By comparison, Thunderbolt is generally in control of his powers (with a couple exceptions), and he is able to use them to a wider degree than Dragon Eye. However, he’s arrogant as hell, with a name that equates him to the Buddha (in addition to wearing the mask), and in spite of choosing a path that is contrary to Buddha’s teachings.
This leads to the film’s conflict being a fight between the two – essentially brought on solely because Thunderbolt wants to see who is stronger – not because Dragon Eye has discovered Thunderbolt’s double life and is trying to stop him. It’s interesting and generally well-paced, but it’s also clear that the filmmakers didn’t have much of a budget for fight choreography. Instead, much of the money clearly went into the cast, and on making the sure the film has some special effects.
I’m glad that I watched this film though, and considering how much discussion I’ve gotten out of a movie that is less than an hour long, I’d say that’s enough of a thing to make the film worth a recommendation.
Unfortunately, Electric Dragon 80,000V is currently out of print but is available used from Amazon.com. It was licensed for US release by Discotek Media, and if they still have the rights, hopefully, it will get a reprint at some point in the future.
If you enjoyed this review and would like to read future reviews up to a week early, please consider backing my Patreon. Backers get reviews up to a week early.
Or you can just toss a few bucks in my Ko-Fi Jar if you want to help out but the Patreon isn’t a viable option.