The time has come at last. We can finally look at cinema through a more personal and emotional lens and at the same time remain deeply committed to shattering established classical forms. We can be Scorsese, Jarmusch, Cassavetes, and Wong Kar Wai, all at once. And take it even further, the way Ferrara does, pushing at the edges to reinforce the singularity.
By definition, the filmmaker has to make things obvious, so the form here is a coming-of-age story.
Our protagonist, a Japanese tourist in New York, is looking for a place called “Hazard”. He doesn’t find it, but he runs into someone allegedly named Hazard who mugs him. He then meets a guy who literally embodies hazard. An over the top, manic, unstable, street hustler who runs a drug ring through an Ice Cream truck franchise. A kind of children gangster fantasy. This guy literally forces our protagonist at gunpoint to join their gang. Coming of age here is put at the level of a hostage situation.
The gang constantly set-up situations governed by two currents: a wild frenetic acting-out of violent fantasies à la Clockwork Orange, and an infinitely nostalgic melancholic stance carried by a literal visual poetry that is astonishing. The handheld camera keeps motion going at all times as the frantic editing hits us with flashes of impeccable compositions and color separations, bodies in motion, like children playing, possibly running away from something. There is an enormous sense of loss in the musical selections and the fragmented episodic nature of each scene. Compare this to The Comedy (2012) whose actor-focused story of a bored Brooklynite failed to create the most essential cinematic characteristic possibility of all: a sense of place.
Cinema is currently at its widest reaching appeal. The mind fragmentation that has occurred with the advent of a global communication network is what cinema can help repair. What first appears as cynical and nihilistic in Sion Sono’s work is actually an antidote to the broken sense of meaning that is advertised by the ‘cultural products’ of corporate film structures whose ‘fit for consumption’ works do more to obfuscate than empower our sense of visual possibility.
The most essential contract between the narrative filmmaker and the viewer has always been the sense of complete sincerity about visual possibility. Sion Sono’s story is about a tourist, in a very real place, New York City, following a ‘maddened guide’ acting out the most unreal violent fantasies. The camera frames the most appealing locations, riddled with textures and colors, and shapes, and movement. Each frame oozes subjectivity. There is an abundancy of duration rhythms and an accumulation of viewing perspectives. As if each scene allowed for the intervention of a frenetic sense of eventfulness.
The most indirect reference would be “The Dead End Kids”, the small group of teenage actors who were regulars in crime B-movies of the 1940’s and were always huddling around a barrel in a damp basement counting coins. See this in reference to the film crew of Michel Gondry’s “Be Kind, Rewind”, who may appear charismatic on the surface but lack an intrepid sense of adventure and danger.
These modern-day Bowery Boys rob stores at will, steal cars at red lights, and face off with local corrupt police officers. This is all a kind of dream world, abound with cinematic references, but not of the Star Wars and Back To The Future kind. In fact, if you actually pay attention, you’ll notice Orson Welles, Samuel Fuller, more often than the Coen Bros. or the ultraviolence Hollywood chief officer and maker of the sure hitter box-office success “Django Unchained”.
A subplot about how difficult it is for a character to tell a girl he likes her serves as the perfect example of how the mechanisms of control prevent spontaneous expression and instead foster restraint and passivity. The day our hero works up the courage to confess his love, he is shot dead by a police officer.
Our protagonist, committed to friendship, will exact revenge for his friend’s killing. The ‘maddened guide’ will take the rap for the crime and be jailed. There is an intense uncertainty and a strong emotional attachment towards early experiences once actual ecstasy has run its course and resulted in death and dissolution . A scene near the end shows our tourist returning to Japan, going through customs, and carrying an ‘invisible suitcase’, most likely full of the visual possibilities he witnessed in that very real place he experienced: New York city.
Sion Sono’s film “Hazard” has all the characteristics of an essential cinematic experience which fiercely fights off the grip of its influences. There is no confusion about whose side Sono is on and what he represents.