Kamikaze ’89

| September 22, 2016

While the work of Rainer W. Fassbinder can certainly be deemed ‘strange’, any single label like this would be too confining. In 13 years, he directed over 40 films, including the 15-hour Berlin Alexannderplatz. Fassbinder also starred in fellow contemporaries work to high regard. Wolf Gremm’s Kamikaze 89, release shortly before Fassbinder’s death at 37, is a showcase of his acting capabilities and personal struggle so common his work.

It is 1989 and the world has reached utopia. Society moves “according to clockwork” and there is no murder or suicide but “premature death.” This is all thanks to The Combine, a hulking building in Dusseldorf. However, someone is not so convinced of the happiness and send a bomb threat to The Combine. Who would want to disrupt utopia? Lieutenant Jensen is determined to find out. He quickly realizes that not only are the people running The Combine trying to disrupt his case, they’re also hiding a crippling secret from the world.

Fassbinder appears to have the proverbial foot already in the grave in his role as Jensen. Overweight, overwrought, and clad in a costume that later doubled as a club outfit, the performance is the late star at his most addicted to vice. Like the man behind the character, Kamikaze’s Jensen suffers from alcoholism(despite knowing better) and looks ill from physical toil. The biographical connection is further emphasized by Fassbider’s overtaking of the director’s chair. and contribution to the script. It is of little wonder that Fassbinder admirer/collaborator Christian Braad Thompson describes the film as a “documentary” about the late artist.

Even close attention. to the film exposes a lack of coherent narrative. The story oscillates between social critique and foreign film gag reel. Yet the implications, especially those familiar with the thematic vein of the protagonist Fassbider, exist plainly to viewers. Private enterprise subverting political power. Women achieving success in a repressed societal role. Illusions of freedom. While probing these subjects could make for a dissertation, the film paints broadly enough for even casual viewers to appreciate.

Set to an eerie Tangerine Dream soundtrack, Kamikaze 89 takes one of the first steps into to the cyberpunk genre. The 1982 release appropriately coincides with definitive cyberpunk film Blade Runner. Fassbinder would not live to direct this gloss and glam version of science fiction – despite exploring a similar aesthetic in 1973’s World on a Wire – but his role as Lieutenant Jensen in Kamikaze 89 stands as a memorable character in the genre.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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