Film | Wide Angle

‘Crazy Thunder Road’ is still a mad, but great film

by James Hadfield

Sogo Ishii — or Gakuryu Ishii, as he now prefers to be known — was just 23 when he released “Crazy Thunder Road,” perhaps one of the greatest films to emerge from Japan’s punk era (an honor it shares with the director’s 1982 follow-up, “Burst City”). A nihilistic tale of warring biker gangs and ultra-nationalist militias, the movie drew comparisons to George Miller’s “Mad Max,” released a year earlier, though it was closer in spirit to the low-budget filmmaking that was then being pioneered by Sam Raimi in the United States.

With its frenetic camerawork, rapid-fire editing and abrasive soundtrack (featuring punk act The Mods and rockers Panta & Hal, among others), the movie had a lasting impact on a generation of filmmakers. Shinya Tsukamoto and Takashi Miike both owe a significant debt to Ishii, while Quentin Tarantino has also cited him as an influence.

Shot on 16 mm, “Crazy Thunder Road” was actually Ishii’s film school graduation project, but distributors Toei liked it enough that they enlarged it to 35 mm for theatrical release. This was the version that got used for the video and DVD editions of the film, but when the original 16-mm print was unearthed recently, a crowd-funding effort raised the cash to have it digitally remastered.

The new edition of “Crazy Thunder Road” was released on Blu-ray last month but — as with most cult classics — this is a film that’s best enjoyed with company. Catch it in a late screening at Tokyo’s Cinemart Shinjuku starting Dec. 10, before it moves to Cinemart Shinsaibashi in Osaka from Dec. 17.