Krystian Woznicki on Sat, 21 Mar 1998 14:12:15 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Interview with Sawaragi Noi on cyberpunk


Sawaragi Noi about Fukui Shojin and Cyberpunk
Interviewed by Krystian Woznicki, March 1996 *1]

Fukui Shojin's Rubber's Lover (1995) is preoccupied with interdependent
layers of isolation. The film focuses on the activities of a scientist
group, which dedicates its research to explore man's psychic horizons. The
laboratory is set in the basement of some remote factory. As they
basically do not leave the lab, their situation gains increasingly
claustrophobic features.
Of interest here are the methods they employ in order to overcome
the'nothingness' beyond technology, - Fukui is critically aware that  new
media brings about "the problem to find genuine means of self-expression
[while] further increasing people's isolation." *2] 
The technological device DDD (Digital Direct Drive) is used in order  to
eradicate people's consciousness. Penetrated by a colossal  motorized
needle that is loaded with a chemical, they are expected to go on a
psychic odyssey. In this way they expand their mental horizon, and
establish potential capacity for psychic relationships. 
The desired effects are only  achieved, when  a rubber suit is used in
addition. This compact floatation tank ensures entire isolation, and
eventually enables the transcendence of ones physical limits. As a result
one  is capable of entering the Other, "being internalized as another
self". Those who reach this state of being are depicted as condemned to
the most radical kind of isolation:   literally shown as drug addicts.  

Krystian Woznicki: The discussion of Fukui Shojin's Rubber's Lover I
would like to begin with a consideration of the shift in cinematic space.
Compared to Pinocchio  (1990) it is reduced to claustrophobic indoor
footage and a few anonymous/alienating outdoor shots. Everything conspires
in The Center   where the scientist team ---dissociated from the outside
world--- concentrates, manipulates and produces 'energy'.  

Sawaragi Noi: The claustrophobic notion in Rubber's Lover is not limited
to the interior space of the research institute which functions as the
stage of the movie. It also applies to the appearing characters living in
the research institute. (For example the men whose whole bodies were to be
covered with rubber). It is needless to say, that also the outside of the
research institute, which is often created by such images as the inside a
of a moving car, is also a sort of claustrophobic space. Therefore, I
would not say, that the claustrophobic space in Rubber's Lover  is
established by the relation of the inside and outside. I would rather
suggest, that both sides are characterized by the same level of
claustrophobic space. The uneven distribution between inside and outside
leads to an image, where the outside melts into the inside and where the
claustrophobic space has lost an outside. In other words it is about the
fact that only an inside exists. 
The power to maintain such a blockaded space is in Fukui's earlier piece
Pinocchio  created by showing the hopeless effort of Pinocchio  to escape
by running at full speed through the city. 

The "rule of the scientist" roughly fits this image. I am deeply
interested in this "rule of the scientist", which seems to be the one
common motif in both movies. But what is it exactly that these scientists
think they are ruling (controlling)? I am not sure about this, but the
least that can be said is, that "the scientists" fear those moments, when
the order of the claustrophobic space starts to waver dynamically. Though
there is a secret leakage in Pinocchio  and though the experiments on
human bodies are a failure in Rubber's Lover,  the order inside is
artificially maintained by the "internal organs." They want to suppress
any leakage to the outside. When there is danger of actual leakage to the
outside, their reactions are close to hysteria, they cry and it is the end
of any scientific behavior. With their getting excited, this place can
only collapse.

Fukui describes this "leakage" often by showing the gush of
bodily fluids. In Rubber's Lover   it is indicated by the various body
fluids gushing out of the body's openings such as the mouth, the ears and
the nose. The essential here is, that from the point of view of the
cinematic set up, the image is produced by the suppression of the body
through the torture and the experiments on the human body. However,
regardless of this, in reality it is the unfolding of the rules against
the body by "them", that creates the image of torture and the failure of
the experiments on the human body. In addition to the above mentioned I
would like to emphasize again that the claustrophobic space in Rubber's
Lover is not produced by the opposition of the inside to the outside,
but by the loss of an outside.  

The maintenance of such a space is impossible no matter what
kind of power the scientists have. For me, the consistent motif in the
movie is the natural collapse of such a space. Therefore, one aspect of
the movie is to deal with the entropy of the inside space, that leads
inevitably to its collapse. (This entropy does not apply to the outside).
At one glance, Fukui creates a rather narcissistic image of the
claustrophobic space. It is not his desire to maintain a kind of
Order/Suppression fetish, but on the contrary to make the inside break

Krystian Woznicki:  A particular dimension of Rubber's Lover's
(claustrophobic) cinematic space is subtly intertwined with another
formal novelty that crucially discerns Fukui's second feature from his
first: the question in which historical context the film is set (a matter
that seems effaced in Fukui's minimal/reductive composition) and "la mode
retro," which is, in the first place, composed of Fukui's decision to
shoot in B &W and with "classic" lighting. 
The principle Fukui has imposed upon himself, to shoot only
indoor/inside (that may include outdoor as well like the car scene you
mention shows) is even enhanced through reduced employment of (any
decorative) set elements: the machinery and the people (the scientists)
are from the very outset predominantly in focus.  As we look at the
machines they use, we cannot but notice (hopelessly) outdated standards.
The scientist's futuristic laboratory aim is pursued with a scientific
approach that is far behind our time. A spontaneous search for indications
that might contain historical information reveals that Rubber's Lover  is
devoid of those artefacts with reference to a particular historical
context. Although -at first glance-the film seems to be set in our time,
or the near future, Fukui's "styling" and editing blurs any contemporary
reference (the clothes may be the only exception) on one hand, and informs
artefacts such as experimental equipment, DDD's basic components,
telephones, etc. with an indecipherable (not future but) pastness code,
-they seem of some other age (maybe the 40's, 50's ?), but we cannot
clearly designate a year, or decade of which we may find prove/hints in
the film itself (:no media, including TV, radio, newspapers, no particular
fashion, no particular language; nothing really allows us to
classify/situate the film historically.)
Questions about Fukui's involvement in Japan's >>Cyberpunk<<
movement, of which he certainly is one of the initiators, come to mind.
Associations with Tsukamoto Shinya's The Iron Man (1989) are inevitable;
grounded on superficial similarities. But why, we ask ourselves, would
somebody undertake to make a film  so decisively inspired by a movie made
about six years earlier, characteristic for a "subgenre" that is about to
decline, as it seems to have lost its point of reference? 
Is it difficult, or even say, impossible to designate the film's
setting on historical terms, there is, at the same time, seemingly no
argument to be found which would incite us to plead its
relevance/necessity in its receptive historical context. Couldn't it have
been made some time in the 80's (which the soundtrack suggests)? 
If we realize that Rubber's Lover   is itself a product of and about a
non-definable/non-traceable past, then I wonder how it relates to what is
called >>Cyberpunk<<; a movement that emerged as a reaction on the
cultural dilemma of Japan's 80's generation that was overshadowed by
undigested post WW2 aftereffects. This "subgenre" reinvented the feel
characteristic of popular TV series  such as Ultraman 7 (a product of the
occupation years, which, created in the postwar period, had an enormous
influence on the psychological development of young Japanese boys and
girls, as you mentioned earlier as well) and reevoked those segments of
Japan's immediate post WW2 (psychological) atmosphere informed by moments
such as trauma/impoverishment/defeat which were 'lived' at that time; the
message being, "the vacuum that was  then, is  now. The key to present
problems lies in the past."     

Sawaragi Noi: First I would like to make some supplementary comments on
the reception of Japanese Cyber Punk, which concern Ridley Scott's
Bladerunner  and the later produced New Romance  by William Gibson. After
an overabundance of Japanese images, created by earlier filmmakers, the
works of these two men led to one decisive image of Japan, which is the
setting of a movie-stage resembling "Chiba City."  This image was later
applied by many other filmmakers.  The "Cyber Kids" in Japan mostly quote
those two men and their works as the "classics" of Cyber Punk. However,
did Scott and Gibson really intent to deal with Japan or wasn`t it rather
a coincidence, a creation by chance that their works were associated with
In general "Cyber Punk" as a part and with reference to the
history of SF, is described by three distinct features, which are "Cyber
Space,"  the "Near Future" and the "Ruins."  In the thriving 50ies,
filmmakers took the Genre SF to extremes and took pride in the "Outer
Universe."  Although the 60ies were characterized by the "New Wave," which
focused on the quest for the "Inner Universe", there was no real novelty
in the conception of Science Fiction. This was left to the emerging
strange "Deja Vu," which wrapped up everything.  ("Cyber Space," "Near
Future," "Ruins" and the strange "Deja Vu " -- They are all, with some
slight variations under way, common to Fukui's Rubber's Lover.)  In the
beginning of the 20th century SF was enhanced by the discoveries of
Relativity Theory and Quantum Mechanics. In Fine Arts, the Futuristic
School and Cubism and of course futuristic movies such as Fritz Lang's
Metropolis  dealt with the changes, which extended to the whole of society
and which were taken as signs for a shift in paradigm. The new paradigm
was characterized by the application of the same machinery all over the
world, thus leading to its uniformization. This became the starting point
for the later development of SF and at the same time took in advance its
Until the 1970s this "limit" consisted of the constant gap between the
"development" of SF and its "unfolding."  After the 1980ies, SF as a whole
started to rethink itself and to go back to its origins. The time for self
reference had begun and with this also "Cyber Punk."  In other words,
after the 1980ies, "Cyber Punk" called on the crisis of SF as a genre.
Moreover, the development of scientific techniques had gradually caught up
with SF imagination and the present seemed to be superior to the
projections. Even the framework of the motivational setting of past SF,
the binomial opposition of "Outer Universe/Inner Universe" was put into
question. All this resulted in the effort of many and ambiguous works to
originate something new. 
Our believe is, that the whole scientifically oriented society
is related to superficiality, although we are only unconsciously aware of
this. In reference to our background, it was until then, impossible to
think of us as individualistic subjects. In the present days, technical
media theory has clarified this aspect by stating, that there is no more
to do, but to break down the common-sense binomial oppositions like
"past/future" and "cultural science/natural science."  This also means
that the disturbance of this binomial opposition easily extends until
"Reality/Fiction."  Another polarization used to be by former literates
the denomination of "serious literature" and by later ones "Science
Fiction." However, it is no mystery that after the 1980ies the
circumstances had become less clear and there was no exact borderline
between "Serious Literature and Science Fiction" anymore.  At the same
time Science Fiction had to notice the fact, that it could not exist
without any of the two elements which are on the one hand "Science" and on
the other hand "Fiction." In other words, "Cyber Punk" willingly
established "Ruins."
After the existing binomial oppositions, such as "past/future,"
"High Tech/Junk,"  "Outer Universe/Inner Universe" and "High Class
Culture/Subculture" were broken down, they were reestablished as a new
genre-like foundation of SF. Therefore SF was a ruin by itself.  From the
viewpoint of SF, the disturbance of such a tense, space and class
structure all led to one, the awareness, that SF must be able to withdraw
from the past, the future and the present and relevant places.  The result
was the "Near Future," which was therefore originally a kind of "Cyber
Suddenly the three holy treasures of  Cyberpunk, that is the
"Near Future," "Ruins" and "Cyberspace (electronic brain space)" agreed
with it. (Surely, in accordance with what you pointed out already, it is
difficult to fix the specific time setting of Rubber's Lover.  The
establishment of a distinct multi-sound space is another aspect of the
movie. Although my mother tongue is Japanese, I find it hard to catch the
meaning of the words in several sequences of the dramatic conversation.
The mixing of various sounds and the persons'  uttering sounds
paradoxically gives the impression of both: To be without nationality and
to have many different nationalities. Usually Japanese filmmakers use
Black&White on the purpose of  imaginary sweet nostalgia. You will easily
find lots of examples for such kind of employment, but in "Rubber's Lover"
B&W is used to reflect the present. It enfosters a kind of separation as
it turns around the B&W image.) This signifies an overdue attempt of "Meta
Fiction," which was transplanted into the soil of SF. Also there was
obviously an effort to cultivate it.  Furthermore, the overexcessive
images are part of the strategy to build on the ruins of SF, which is a
distinct SF design. It means to first collect every possible design
created by earlier SF and in a second step to create a Meta-SF out of if
-- this formed the unconsciousness of "Cyber Punk." In short, you could
actually see the establishment of the "Ruins" in "Cyber Punk," although it
is not in relation to the fixation of a stage-setting, but due to the
appearing creatures. They are like leftover lumber, without one distinct
reason for existence they become the objects of practical use in various
forms. Junk Culture originates in this feature, because he/she is recycled
by an activation of the downbroken past history.  However, the nostalgia
of  man-made "Science" and "Fiction," assembled from the fragments of a
now ending history,  creates the Zombie. It is like alchemy, it is the
truth of the other side. 
After the 1980s such techniques turned into one major cultural
aspect. In Fine Arts Simulationism used waste articles of a past history
and  in Music the similar attempt of "House Music" signify the trend
towards mixing everything. The  metaphor for the atmosphere in Japan at
that time could be roughly called "historical-surgery," which is shown
also in Rubber's Lover, where the human body is cut into pieces applying
rather freely criminal scientific techniques. An act which is often
accompanied by the thought to thinking to create a kind of monster.
Surely, after the introduction of Cyber Punk, without wanting to question
serious literature and SF in Japan, "Near Future Junk and Cyber Taste"
called works became very popular. But among all those works it is not easy
to clarify those, who are actually works of Cyber Punk and they cannot be
selected only by the historical perspective as mentioned above. 
What it probably lacks, is one aspect of the "Near Future," which is
called Meta literature and which is used to color the "Cyber Space." There
are a number of devices (Ruins, Asia, foolish regiment, without
nationality...) in Japan, to refer to the ruins of the cities as found
just after WW II and they are usually associated rather with memories of
the "Near Past" and not the "Near Future." From this point of view, the
strategy to build up a nostalgia had naturally to be different. (Taking
off from this point, I think this is why you cannot see the "Near Future"
in Cyber Punk and why it had to be set up in Chiba (New Romance ) and
Dotonbori (Black Rain  ).)
I think that Rubber's Lover  offers some good result on this
judgment. The "Cyber Punk made in Japan" criticized outside of Japan, for
example tomo Katsuhiro's Akira -- considers the reversal of tense, by
overemphasizing the three elements, "Cyber Space," "Near Future" and
"Ruins," which leads to a somehow dislikable image. In Rubber's Lover
these SF elements are almost ignored, on the contrary, the awkward
feelings, the shortage of material, the spiritual pressure, the negative
elements are the fundamental axis, around which the movie is advancing.
This has something to do with what you already mentioned concerning the
sufferings of Japan just after WW II. I would only like to add one thing
to the ways in which the time of occupation is described. I think it has
something to do with how the people had to live during those times and I
would like to call it the matters of the "Black Market." The "Black
Market" witnessed a sudden increase shortly after the war, which could be
traced by the way illegal business was done and by increasing marketplaces
(called barracks) built by the merchants. The "Black Market" did not mean
big business; it rather stands for all those little criminal acts and
small crimes, that were committed by poor people in order to cope with
survival and to go on living. It was a place ruled by poor peoples wisdom. 
Even if in Fukui's Rubber's Lover the core of description is
one of "illegality,"  it refers to this "Black Market," sets free this
kind of charm and above that, refers to the power of people to deal with a
peculiar chaos in their lives. (In reality, this picture was shot at an
extreme low budget, Fukui himself did not call it "Low Budget,"  but "No
Budget," but the useless lumber extending to the whole city area is
collected every evening, and of high practical use.) Those elements, which
are introduced to the outside of Japan as "Cyber Punk," can thus only be
interpreted in the context of shortage. 

* Translation by Barbara Fuchs 


1] This interview was earlier published in full length in BLIMP
Filmmagazine No.35/1996

2] From a Fukui Shojin Interview by Krystian Woznicki in Tokyo, January


SAWARAGI NOI teaches art and communication at Musashino Art University and
in Osaka. He has recently published the books >>Techno-Delick<< and
>>Atom-Mother-Heart<<. His current book is a pioneering project on art
after WW2  >>Japan-Contemporary-Art<< published by Shinchosha. 

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