“I was on my way home, but the moon brought me back here.”
Tsukamoto’s Tokyo Fist is a tour-de-force of cinematic virtuosity. Containing elements of both horror and dark humour, the film finely sums up the entirety of Tsukamoto’s film career. Throughout the film there are recurring symbols: meat, the city, fists (of course), and self-destruction, all of which, are bywords in Tsukamoto’s vocabulary. The storyline is a fairly linear one. Tsukamoto himself plays the role of the protagonist, Tsuda Yoshiharu, who all but abandons his monotonous life as a salesman to pursue a boxing career. One of the many ironies of the film is that he sells security packages – security is something he will be grossly deprived of in the following eighty minutes.
The film begins with a quick montage of Tsuda visiting his clients. Soon he receives a call from his supervisor demanding that he deliver a gift to a client. The gift is a ticket to a boxing match. Tsuda delivers it and is recognized by an old high school friend, Kojima Yakuji. Back at his apartment he reposes with his fiancé, Hizaru, watching, interestingly enough, The Third Man (a reference to Kojima?). Tsuda mentions to Hizaru that he wants to avoid Kojima. When he returns home from work, he discovers Kojima sitting with Hizaru talking pleasantly. Kojima is a professional boxer and had celebrated some early success; he offers them both tickets to his next fight and leaves. Kojima visits her again, this time making a pass at her; she rejects him coldly. Tsuda hears of this but interprets it differently. He rushes to Kojima’s apartment, confronts him, and is beaten to a pulp.
Something begins to disintegrate within Hizaru at this point; she pierces her ear before Kojima’s match and doesn’t tell Tsuda that she went (something which would seem to be against her character before the events of the film). When she gets up to leave, she meets Tsuda who was also watching the match apparently. When they return home, they fight. Tsuda shows up at the boxing warehouse (the same one Kojima trains at) and begins to train. Hizaru begins getting more and more tattoos and finally moves in with Kojima. Tsuda storms to Kojima’s apartment and demands her to come back. She says they are splitting up. Tsuda continues to train more and more and one day, Hizaru spies him at the warehouse. She asks him what he’s doing; his response, “Why this air of menace?” They part ways once again, unable to comprehend the motives behind each others’ actions. Soon we learn of the history between Tsuda and Kojima. In high school, they had witnessed a girl murdered. They sought the killers, but the police found them before they had a chance; because of this, they vowed to learn boxing.
Like most of Tsukamoto’s work, there’s an abundance of frantic handheld camerawork. Also, typical of his work, is the excessive blood and gore which even furthers the surreality of the entire film. The cityscapes are filmed in an oppressive, blinding way capable of crushing the unprepared human. Tsuda strives to recapture what he believes is his lost manhood – this is his security package and he must deliver it to himself this time, as brutally and painful as possible. This is self-discovery through self-annihilation (perhaps Fight Club “borrowed” more than a few things from this film) where every pulverizing punch is savoured and remembered. The film is a marvelous study of the insecurities of being a man. The male characters project their frustrations and seek to destroy each other to compensate for their lack of self-esteem. The film repeatedly transitions with a stop-motion explosion of meat – this is the male solution. Boxing is a sport where one must endure pain in order to inflict pain. Man is attracted to violence and is inevitably drawn to self-destruction. By the end of the film, all three characters must suffer pain. When their recovery is complete they are only shells of their former selves, perhaps wiser, perhaps exactly the same.