One of the Berlinale’s most sought-after retrospectives is in it for the long run: Kamikaze ’89 takes the Friday night billing at Filmkunst 66.
Wolf Gremm‘s 1982 cult classic was revived and restored last year, causing the crowds to swell at the 2017 Berlinale International Film Festival. Featuring cinema legend Rainer Werner Fassbinder in his last acting role, it has similarities to its classmate Blade Runner, in its cyberpunk aesthetic and lonely detective trope.
It doesn’t enjoy the same popular renown, settling instead for a cult following. Nonetheless, Fassbinder’s regular cameraman Xaver Schwarzenberger delivers some technical pizzazz and Edgar Froese (of Tangerine Dream) a timeless electronic score.
It’s 1989, and it’s a suitably dated German urban backdrop. The nation has managed to resolve most of its sociopolitical problems except for a strong lingering discontent with the media landscape among the intellectual elite.
The idea of a Police Disco remains an unrealised eccentricity
An interesting political atmosphere, considering a plot centres around a monopolistic media outfit. Fassbinder is Jansen, an undercover cop investigating a terrorist plot against the corporation. The few traces that his nemesis leaves behind, lead Jansen to the 31st floor of the media headquarters. There, he suspects, he may find the thread that unravels the mystery.
Sublime and ridiculous
But co-writer Robert Katz insists it’s not a whodunnit, and it’s the title that gives this away. “Fassbinder as Jansen embodies the kamikaze’s lack of any future. And the absence of a future, in turn, signifies the absence of a message.”
It ends with Jansen listening to a recording of Neil Armstrong’s broadcast – from the moon
There’s a definite insincerity about the production. Fassbinder cuts an outlandish and slovenly figure. Unshaven and toting a couple of cyberpunky handheld surveillance devices, he flaunts a questionable leopard-print suit that matches his pistol grip and his dashboard.
The film’s predictions are amusing but hit-and-miss. Modern-day reality TV is pre-echoed when the conglomerate broadcasts a live laughing contest; but the Police Disco sadly remains an unrealised eccentricity. The choice of year is, politically speaking, quite uncanny – but in this story it’s no more than a number.
Structured cleverly but uncouthly
Eerie, slightly trashy and rarely subtle, the film is an uneven but intriguing watch. Gremm’s cleverest trick is how he builds our expectation of a climactic showdown, only to skip straight to the aftermath. The ending, with Jansen listening to a recording of Neil Armstrong’s broadcast from the moon, is bafflingly oblique.
Catch it while you can, because it is not officially available on DVD (at least not with English subtitles).
KAMIKAZE ’89 is screened with English subtitles every Friday at 10:30 p.m. at Filmkunst 66, Bleibtreustraße 12, 10623 Berlin-Charlottenburg