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Blu-ray Review: Kamikaze ’89 (1982)

Kamikaze ’89 was the subject of a crowdfunding campaign that I supported vehemently on this site. Were it merely one of Fassbinder’s final films, it would’ve earned my support regardless; however, there’s more in the film worth noting than just that. This newfound exposure is definitely warranted. As Film Movement Classics was in the midst of restoring the film and wanted some aid getting it up on the big screen where it belongs. That effort proved this film did have an audience and it saw both repertory arthouse, physical, and digital release last year.

This is a film based on the novel Murder on the 31st Floor by Per Walhöö, which has seen a number of cinematic adaptations first in the USSR in 1972 and 1980 respectively both on TV, then in 1981 in Hungary, then this version in 1982. The plot ostensibly revolves around a murder investigation the machinations and convolutions of which are giallo-like but it’s the underpinnings of a system on the edge of collapse and the portrait of a society in an uncomfortable middle-ground between dystopia and utopia that give it its emotional resonance, and its melange of capitalism and communism food for thought.

As something of an anomaly in Fassbinder’s filmography, he did not adapt or direct this film, but was lead actor. However, one thing you will glean from Nick Pinkerton’s wonderfully insightful essay on the film (preferably read after having watched it) is that Fassbinder directed by proxy through Wolf Gremm, which can be seen in a few ways. So, if you know Fassbinder’s work it will still feel very familiar.

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The score is a trance-inducing orchestration by Edward Froese of Tangerine Dream fame (for more on that score the Blu-ray booklet also features an essay by Samuel B. Prime about it), bringing its eerie familiar yet vacuous other-worldliness to life was Xaver Schwarzenberger the same DP who brought Berlin Alexanderplatz to life. The film also features a small role performed by the legendary Franco Nero, and Fassbinder mainstay Günther Kauffmann.

Kamikaze ’89 does feature the minimalistic futurism of films like Fassbinder’s own World on a Wire or Godard’s Alphaville one wherein the implication of future happenings is more about societal structure rather than awe-inspiring technological advancements. This tale is also cloistered in as much as it takes place in and around one particular edifice and its mysterious and unfindable 31st floor.

This is a film that stands as a unique statement on an artistic level. It’s being set but seven years in the future, whence the Berlin Wall would fall, also gives it a curious undertone that it likely didn’t possess upon its initial release. It societal relevance may be more culturally relativistic than some other films, but its function as allegory seems as it could spring eternal with increased intensity based on the changing tides of the world’s sociopolitical currents.

Bonus Features

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Aside from the aforementioned essays there is plenty of added viewing including:

  • A feature-length documentary by Wolf Gremm Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Last Year.
  • And an additional documentary Wolf at the Door, a filmic memoir by director Gremm.
  • Feature length commentary by Regina Ziegler
  • Radio ads voiced by John Cassavetes
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