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Sogo Ishii

Ishii Sogo (born 1957) is a film director from Japan known for his striking visuals and sometimes outlandish subject matter.

Ishii was born in Fukuoka Prefecture and attended the Nihon University College of Art. There, with the aid of friends, he directed an 8mm short named Panic (in) High School (also known as The Solitude Of One Man Divided By 88,000 and Charge! Hooligans of Hakata). The film, about a student rebellion when a school's administration refuses to acknowledge complicity for a student's suicide, garnered him attention outside of school and was released theatrically.

For his graduation project, he filmed Crazy Thunder Road) (1980), again directed with friends of his who were in biker gangs. This film was a fusion of Mad Max and the Japanese speed tribe aesthetic, and enthralled film studio Toho such that they struck 35mm prints of the 16mm film and released it theatrically. It was widely considered controversial, and the Japanese film board Eirin condemned it for presenting violence sympathetically.

In 1982, he directed Burst City, a stylish action film about a wild gang of quasi-mutant bikers who ride into a town staging protests against the construction of a nearby nuclear reactor plant. He became a favorite among rebel and punk cineastes in Japan, who previously had no cinematic visionaries of their own.

In 1984, Ishii directed his most widely-acclaimed movie to that point, The Crazy Family, the title of which literally translates to The Back-Firing Family (or more crudely, the fucked-up family). A savage satire of Japanese family life, it depicted an average household (mother, father, son, daughter, and later grandfather) moving into a new Tokyo home, only to have their perfect life collapse due to pressures from within and without. The daughter obsesses over her singing career; the nominally-demure wife does table-dances for the guests; the son stabs himself to stay awake during his exam-cram sessions; the father digs a giant hole in the living room floor, finds termites, buys ant poison and tries to kill everyone en masse. The film garnered the Grand Prix at the Saruso Film Festival.

For the next ten years Ishii made few films, other than various shorts and the Einstuerzende Neubauten concert film Halber Mensch. In 1994 he returned with his first feature-length film in ten years, Angel Dust, about a female psychological profiler trying to find a serial killer who murders every day at five P.M. on the Yamanote commuter line.

In 1995 Ishii made August in the Water, which dealt with a teenage girl gaining supernatural powers after a mishap and using same to better understand her purpose in life. In a similarly mystical vein was 1997's Labyrinth of Dreams, wherein a bus conductor discovers that her driver may in fact be a serial murderer.

In 2000 Ishii made Gojoe, a samurai epic that combined both his original hyperkinetic filmmaking approach (violence, wild editing and camera movements) with his newer, more stately concerns (man's place in the universe). A spectularly-photographed, revisionist retelling of the legends of Musashibo Benkei and Yoshitsune, it recast the two as mortal enemies destined to clash on the bridge named Gojoe. The swordplay, choreographed by a member of the Chinese opera, brought to mind ballet fused with conventional chanbara fighting styles. Opinions over the film were divided in Japan: some lambasted it for being a trashing of conventional myth, while others praised it for being an imaginative re-envisioning and retelling of a well-worn story.

Ishii also directed Electric Dragon 80.000 V in the same year. This was definitely a throwback to his more original filmmaking style -- a low-budget, black-and-white 50 minute short about two superheroes, Dragon Eye Morrison and Electric Buddha, who clash in nighttime Tokyo. Interestingly, the film starred two actors that also appeared in Gojoe, Asano Tadanobu and Nagase Masatoshi.

In 2003 Ishii released Dead End Run, a collection of three short films each revolving around the concept of reaching a dead end. Asano Tadanobu and Nagase Masatoshi again starred.


Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Sogo Ishii Facts

OccupationDirector
BirthdayJanuary 15, 1957 (60)
SignCapricorn
BirthplaceHakata, Japan

Selected Filmography

Not available.