Shozin Fukui (964 Pinocchio) may not be the most prolific filmmaker alive, but when he does release a feature-length film he makes sure it counts. Rubber's Lover is Fukui's second outing, one that found itself a pretty respectable cult following in the West. It's a film with a fair few particularities (which are certain to divide audiences), but if you're into Japanese cyberpunk you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Japanese cyberpunk isn't a very broad and/or richly populated genre, so it's always great to see a film that goes all out. I'm pretty sure that if I made a little checklist of elements that I'd hope to find in a Japanese cyberpunk film, they would all be included in Rubber's Lover. Grizzly black and white photography? Check. Mad screaming people? Check. Extreme close-ups? Check. Sweaty people? Check. Fetish photography? Check.
If you hear around a little, this film will generally be referred to as the one with the crazy, loud-screaming and madly grunting actors. It's somewhat of a trademark for Fukui and Rubber's Lover takes it even beyond the levels found in 964 Pinocchio. At times the screaming is just grating, it weighs on you and makes certain parts of the film quite difficult to watch. It's enough to break a large portion of the audience, for those able to withstand all the noise it only adds to the intensity of the film. No room for compromise.
The story is hardly worth mentioning, but here's a short summary anyway. Two scientists are doing some underground (but funded) research. One of them is injecting people with ether, the other one created a weird spirit-breaking helmet. The results are mediocre and when the funding is finally cut off the scientists take matters into their own hands. The new experiment goes horribly wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it) and chaos ensues. That, and a lot of screaming of course.
Visually Rubber's Lover is a big step forward from 964 Pinocchio. The film is shot in lovely, high-contrast, grainy black and white and looks simply gorgeous. Fukui keeps his camera close to his subjects, often giving close-ups of whatever object he thinks deserves some extra attention. This ranges from extreme character close-ups to metal, tubes and all sorts of tech equipment. The editing is snappy and well-timed, the only thing that could've used more work is the setting, which can feel a bit cheap and empty at times.
The soundtrack is superb too. A magnificent range of electronic tracks, pumping and grinding away. Industrial is the preferred genre for Japanese cyberpunk, but Fukui takes it a couple of steps beyond its predecessors. One (slightly) annoying thing is that Fukui loves to build up the tension, but never allows a release. Many tracks are basically musical build-ups, without the explosive release afterwards. This again keeps the tension high, but it can be infuriating at times.
As for the acting, it's all a matter of taste. The actors are far from believable, over-acting is an understatement and most of the time the actors are either screaming, twitching or doing both at the same time. Then again, you're not watching a realistic drama here and the style of acting does fit in with the other stylistic choices. It's chaotic, loud and in your face, constantly bombarding you with sensory impulses. I for one wouldn't have wanted it any other way, but opinions differ.
Rubber's Lover is a pretty simple film. You either like the madness, or you hate it. There's very little middle ground as everything in the film is made to be as intense, loud and explosive as possible. There is no great storyline to fall back on, no stylistic variation and no poignant realizations later on in the film. It's just 90 minutes of grating screams and flashy black and white fetish shots, set to a pounding score, take it or leave it.
Still, the feeling remains that at times Rubber's Lover could've been just that little bit more insane. It's hard to fault the film at individual points, but when compared to films like Tetsuo or Electric Dragon 80000V it falls short. Not being able to compete with the absolute best is hardly a critique though, so fans of the Japanese cyberpunk genre should do well add this film to their collection. It's a blast from start to finish.