• Kamikaze 89

    Released by: Film Movement
    Released on: September 27th, 2016.
    Director: Wolf Gremm
    Cast: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Gunther Kaufmann
    Year: 1982
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    The Film:

    Rainer Werner Fassbinder was the most controversial filmmaker to emerge from the New German Cinema. Whereas many of his peers would go on to achieve widespread success and international recognition (among the most notable being Werner Herzog, Volker Schlöndorff and Wim Wenders), Fassbinder’s tragic death from a drug overdose in 1982 would essentially relegate his works to the canon of arthouse cinema – revered and influential to filmmakers but unknown to larger audiences. Things are happily starting to change, and thanks to the efforts of boutique film distribution companies like the Criterion Collection and Arrow Video, we are now starting to get a spate of long overdue Fassbinder films on blu-ray. Film Movement have helped add another piece to the Fassbinder puzzle by releasing Wolf Gremm’s KAMIKAZE 89, an obscure dystopian detective thriller from 1982 that features a rare starring role for Fassbinder shortly before his death.

    The year is 1989. Germany is controlled by “The Combine,” a powerful corporation that has a virtual monopoly on news and entertainment. Lieutenant Jansen (Fassbinder, clad in an absurd leopard-print suit) is called into the Combine’s headquarters to respond to a bomb threat. Although this turns out to be a hoax, Jansen soon realizes that something is amiss in The Combine. For one thing, the executives seem to be hiding something. The Director of Human Resources is pushed off the 13th floor to her death, but not before mysteriously alluding to a secret department at the top of The Combine’s headquarters. Jansen is given just four days from the chief of police to find out who is responsible for the plot to bring down the corporation. Could the culprit be the mysterious Krysmopompas, a writer who pens subversive comic books that attack the leader of The Combine?

    KAMIKAZE 89 is weird. Very weird. The movie, which is an adaptation of Per Wahlöö’s 1964 novel Murder on the Thirty-First Floor, belongs to the ALPHAVILLE-school of dystopias-on-a-shoestring. Just as Godard was able to do with Paris, the filmmakers have managed to cleverly instill a disorienting futuristic vibe into modern-day Berlin. This is no doubt aided by KAMIKAZE 89’s cracked, kitsch aesthetic and Gremm’s flashy, Brechtian direction. Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream contributes a soundtrack full of icy and menacing synth chords. The film is less notable for its convoluted plot than for its strange world-building; for example, the police have a “thumbs up” insignia, and all throughout the film we are greeted to officers giving each other the “thumbs up” in lieu of saluting. The government has also outlawed the term “suicide,” preferring instead the less sensationalistic “premature death.” There is also something very endearing about seeing an early-80s vision of a future dominated by CRT TVs and cassette tapes.

    Although Gremm directed and co-wrote the screenplay (along with Robert Katz), you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a Fassbinder film. This is largely because Gremm convinced Fassbinder to star in his film by surrounding him with familiar faces, both in front and behind the camera. There are appearances by Fassbinder-regulars Günther Kaufmann, Juliane Lorenz and Bridgitte Mira. The cinematography is handled by Xaver Schwarzenberger, who worked with Fassbinder on his previous three theatrical films and his epic television series BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ. Fassbinder seems to have enjoyed working on the film, since he would return the favor by casting Gremm in his last film, QUERELLE. There’s also an amusing appearance by the legendary Italian actor Franco Nero; Fassbinder would also give Nero a memorable role in QUERELLE. It’s impossible to watch Fassbinder’s central performance here without being sadly reminded that the talented filmmaker would be dead within a year of the film’s completion. Fassbinder had gained considerable weight towards the end of his life and he looks exhausted throughout the film (although the world-weariness of the role helps to mask some of Fassbinder’s obvious discomfort).

    It’s illuminating to compare this gleefully anarchic film with another dystopic thriller with nourish overtones (and a synth soundtrack!) that was released to theaters around the same time – Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER. Both films have many points of similarity – not least of which being pointed critiques of capitalism – and yet while Scott’s film has been lauded as the first cinematic expression of “cyberpunk,” one hopes the truly subversive charms of KAMIKAZE 89 will reach a new audience. Thematically, the film shares some similarities with Fassbinder’s 1973 sci-fi miniseries WORLD ON A WIRE and THE THIRD GENERATION, a 1979 black comedy that satirizes violent left-wing terrorism.


    Film Movement have brought KAMIKAZE 89 to Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The film has benefited from a new 4K Digital Restoration. It looks excellent throughout, with good detail and naturalistic grain. There is some minor print damage to report (some faded staining, mostly on the margins of the frame) but it’s never distracting. It’s remarkable that a film as obscure as KAMIKAZE 89 looks as good as it does.

    The disc features a very good DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track. Froese’s brooding score sounds great and there is no distortion in the audio track (save for when voices are filtered through television sets, but this a deliberate effect by the filmmakers). There are optional English Subtitles and I did not detect any typos.

    Film Movement have really delivered the goods on an extras-packed 2-disc set. First off, there is an hour-long documentary called “Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Last Year” that is directed by Gremm. The doc (which is presented in standard definition) features voice-over by Gremm and features some valuable behind-the-scenes footage on the set of KAMIKAZE 89 and QUERELLE. It’s a fascinating document for Fassbinder aficionados; watching him orchestrate set-pieces on QUERELLE is particularly illuminating. Next is a commentary track by producer Regina Ziegler (she was also Gremm’s wife); she offers some interesting background about the creation of this most unusual film. Perhaps the strangest extra is a series of radio spots read by John Cassavetes, who sounds utterly hammered and seems to be mocking the film in a strange German accent – it must be heard to be believed. Rounding out the first disc is a series of trailers for other Film Movement releases, including a re-release trailer for KAMIKAZE 89.

    The second disc in the set is a DVD that features a 70+ minute documentary called “Wolf at the Door,” which is a 2015 personal film memoir by director Wolf Gremm. The documentary, which is shot on a smartphone and a mini-camera, was put together by Gremm to record his diagnosis and battle with prostate cancer.

    Finally, Film Movement have provided a gorgeous booklet with a pair of essays; Nick Pinkerton writes about the film and Samuel Prime considers Froese’s soundtrack.

    The Last Word:

    I can’t say enough nice things about Film Movement’s Blu-ray release of Wolf Gremm’s KAMIKAZE 89. The 4K restoration looks and sounds great and there are substantial (and illuminating) extras. As for the film itself, it’s gloriously weird stuff that should appeal all fans of cult cinema. It also goes without saying that it’s a must for devotees of Fassbinder and the New German Cinema (in many ways it, along with Fassbinder’s death, represents the end of that fertile and creative era in German filmmaking). Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!