Wolf Gremm, 1982
Starring: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Günther Kaufmann
Lieutenant Jansen – a police officer in a near crime-free, futuristic society with no pollution, poverty, or unemployment – is called in to investigate a bomb threat on The Combine, the country’s most important media conglomerate, who reside in the city’s tallest high-rise. He and his partner Anton learn that the threat turns is only a hoax, but the note it was printed on is very distinctive – pointing to only two dozen possible culprits – and Jansen’s investigation leads him towards an increasingly dangerous situation that might involve those behind Combine.
Fassbinder’s final performance as an actor – and one of his last creative projects in general – is this zany blend of B-movie, sci-fi film, and detective story. If you’re expecting something serious, along the lines of Fassbinder’s final masterworks like The Marriage of Maria Braun, In a Year With 13 Moons, or Veronika Voss, Kamikaze ’89 is certainly not in that category. It has more in common with Alex de la Iglesia’s Accion Mutante than it does with any of Fassbinder’s films and will only real appeal to fans of “bad” films. With that said, Fassbinder is spectacular in it and was apparently responsible for a script overhaul courtesy of his friend Robert Katz.
Gremm was not known as one of German’s finest filmmakers and Kamikaze ’89 definitely has an amateurish feel, though there are some moments of visual brilliance. It’s based on Per Wahloo’s novel Murder on the Thirty-First Floor, though Katz and Fassbinder updated this by setting it in the near future and this is certainly one of the film’s campiest, though most appealing elements. The cinematography, which alternates between Day-Glo ‘80s colors and a dark noirish flavor, is from Fassbinder’s regular collaborator Xaver Schwarzenberger, who shot most of his late-period films. It is creative and visually impressive, despite the obviously low budget and cheap sets. Probably the most memorable visual is Fassbinder himself, who sports an outlandish leopard print suit, which appears in nearly every frame of the film. But the suit isn’t all – incredibly, the same material can be found on his gun, in his car, and more.
Sadly, unlike Accion Mutante, Kamikaze ’89 lacks an abundance of action or violence and is organized around a series of conversations and interrogations. The film’s most interesting aspect is Jansen’s character. While many other science fiction works have portrayed utopias as fascist, dull, and repetitive, Jansen is the embodiment of that here. His life revolves around solving cases – he has a perfect record – and he is ultimately shown to have a lonely existence lacking any pleasures. His life is gradually revealed to be bleak and depressing – not unlike a standard noir protagonist – and there is something a little depressing about seeing Fassbinder in this role at the end of his life. He’s drunk, bloated, exhausted, and sloppy, which is ultimately perfect for the film.
Really Kamikaze ’89 will only appeal to fans of blatant Eurotrash, which this is undeniably. There are some amusing futuristic elements, such as characters basically Skyping – using the television to make video calls – and a popular reality TV show called The Laughing Contests, where contestants simply laugh for hours on end. Fassbinder and his once-lover Günther Kaufmann (as his partner Anton) get into a number of delightful situations. Early on they visit what is described as a “police disco,” with improbable swingin’ ‘60s-style dancers that clearly get on Fassbinder’s nerves. This ultimately creative and colorful film is nowhere on the same level as Fassbinder’s own sci-fil film, the excellent World on a Wire, or the latter’s source material, Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. I’m still endlessly fascinated by the sci-fi/dystopian films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, most of which are far more imaginative than what we have today – either despite or because of miniscule budgets.
Of further interest to film fans will be the soundtrack from Tangerine Dream, which has wound up being more popular and enduring than the film itself. Between this, Fassbinder’s performance, and the delightful visuals, Kamikaze ’89 is worth seeing – if you can find it. It’s not currently available on DVD, though you can sometimes find it floating around on Youtube. I don’t think there’s a version with English subtitles, though hopefully it will be released sometime soon on DVD. Besides, you don’t want to miss a leopard-print clad Fassbinder humping a poster of Neil Armstrong, do you?