Document type
19 June 2001
Format viewed

Angel Dust

picture: Angel Dust (1994)picture: Angel Dust (1994)

Original title
Angel Dust
  • Kaho MINAMI
  • Etsushi TOYOKAWA
  • Takeshi WAKAMATSU
Running time
110 mins.
Tom Mes

Angel Dust was a return to feature filmmaking for Sogo (real name: Toshihiro) Ishii, one of the most important figures to emerge from the late 70s / early 80s underground 8mm filmmaking movement. Prior to making this film, Ishii had taken a ten-year leave of absence which was spent directing the occasional music video, concert film and short.

This film, the story of a serial killer who haunts the Tokyo subways armed with a deadly syringe, was seen as a return to form, albeit a radically different form to his previous work. The director of such unabashedly physical films as Crazy Thunder Road (Kuruizaki Sandaa Rodo, 1980) and Burst City (Bakuretsu Toshi, 1982), made Angel Dust in a way that was much more concerned with the metaphysical.

In fact, the serial killer premise of Angel Dust is merely a motive for a sublime exercise in mood and atmosphere. Ishii does an admirable job in getting the viewer into a state of mind which, paradoxically, is at once unsettling and oddly comforting. His approach is reminiscent of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure, which it predates by three years. Ishii uses every element at his disposal to influence the mind and emotions of the audience: editing (cross cutting, jump cutting, deliberate pacing), composition and camera movement (studied and distant), lighting (cold and harsh fluorescent lights), sound, and above all production design. The latter point is especially of interest, as it combines and contrasts man-made geometric shapes with the flowing lines of nature, only to arrive at the suggestion that they don't stem from different worlds at all - the triangular image of Mount Fuji being the ultimate combination of the two.

Sogo Ishii's studied approach to Angel Dust, which he continued to employ for 1995's August in the Water (Mizu No Naka No Hachigatsu) and 1998's Labyrinth of Dreams (Yume No Ginga), has often raised questions as to why the director so radically changed his style from the aforementioned early 80s punk sagas. This question is rather irrelevant. Just as the anarchic spirit of those films required a manic, overly energetic approach, so does Angel Dust require a more sedate and composed hand. It is the sign of a good director if he knows at which moments to hold back and when to let rip. And Ishii is nothing if not a good director.

But with Angel Dust, he does let slip on one occasion: the ending. For a film which doesn't require explanations, it tries far too hard to resolve every plot strand and rationalise every occurrence. It is far too literal and a betrayal to the air of mystery which Ishii so carefully constructed in the 90 or so minutes that went before.


Panorama (Hong Kong)

picture: DVD cover of 'Angel Dust'

Region 3. English, Chinese subtitles.

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Amuse (Japan)

picture: DVD cover of 'Angel Dust'

Region 2. No subtitles.