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From music to revolution: The semiotics of punk and cinematic symbolism in Sôgo Ishii’s Burst City

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This article analyses how punk music and film influence each other as separate media when juxtaposed together in the Japanese director Sogo Ishii’s film Bakuretsu Toshi (Burst City) (1982). In particular, instead of conforming to the expected use of music in films to specify the appropriate mood or audience response, punk music goes against the expected meaning of Burst City as a youth rebellion film. This dissonance is placed within the context of surrealist collage symbolism in the punk subculture and similar cinematic ‘time-images’ which transform their original parts into instances where social and political systems cannot make sense. It is argued that this dissonance pushes both punk music and cinema outside of their expected roles as artistic media to influence people not to accept violent hierarchies and harmful industries such as nuclear power. At the same time, this cinematic evocation of the punk subculture is ambivalent because it remains mired in some of the clichés of 1980s cinematic genres and the prevailing homosocial gender relations in Asia. These limitations exist in Burst City’s critique of violence against women that only offers an implied possibility of positive roles for women in the Japanese punk scene.
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Keywords: Dick Hebdige; Gilles Deleuze; Japanese cinema; nuclear power; punk; violence

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Nagoya University

Publication date: June 1, 2018

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  • Punk & Post-Punk is a journal for academics, artists, journalists and the wider cultural industries. Placing punk and its progeny at the heart of inter-disciplinary investigation, it is the first forum of its kind to explore this rich and influential topic in both historical and critical theoretical terms.
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