Starring: Kiyomi Ito Takeshi Ito Ryumei Homura Satomi Shinozaki Dai Hiramitsu
Running time: 62 min.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
A sexually transmitted disease that can lay dormant for more than ten years during which time the carrier can pass it on to unsuspecting partners through unprotected sex. Eventually it ravages the person's body. Contracting the disease is a death sentence and there is no known cure. Fear has fueled prejudice and paranoia among the population. Until the discovery of penicillin in 1928 this was is what the world faced with syphilis and the parallels to the present day HIV/ AIDS pandemic is startling. The fusion of sex and death that syphilis represented in the 19th-century mind was perfect fodder for art and literature and no better example of this was Irish author Bram Stoker's iconic 1897 novel "Dracula". With many literary historians believing that Stoker suffered and died from syphilis his story about an undead creature whose highly sexualized bite meant his victim would suffer their own living death takes on whole new levels of meaning. Since Stoker, though, the horror that was "Dracula" and the disease that in part inspired it has been dampened or forgotten. Vampires have been transformed into black clad characters in the dark flip side of a Harlequin romance, but leave it to Hisayasu Sato, the director of the grisly 1995 "Splatter: Naked Blood" to change all that by directly addressing our own modern day plague, HIV/ AIDS, with his 1994 film "Love - Zero = Infinity".
At the beginning of the film our main character has already drifted into a shadowy half-life. Bessho is a broken man, mourning the loss of his young girlfriend. Having lost his job at a TV station he now spends his days following random strangers who he's dubbed "Unidentified Following Objects" through the streets of Tokyo. It's while doing this that he runs across a young punk rocker and his girlfriend who spend their days hanging out in a junkyard indulging in some very risky behaviour. Instead of sex and drugs the two are addicted to what they call "Blood Rush", injecting each other's blood as the ultimate form of intimacy. "Don't you know about AIDS?" Bessho asks them, but the young man is unphased. "Life is just running towards death," he says, plus there's worse things happening in the city than what he and his girl get up to in the junkyard. The media is reporting that there is a "vampire" serial killer on the loose who is draining their victims of blood and soon Bessho's peculiar hobby attracts the attention of a man who's trying to stop the carnage. This man, a doctor, believes that it's his estranged wife, a doctor in her own right who's become addicted to a new dermatological drug that makes her sensitive to sunlight, is behind the killings. Her motivation: to seek revenge against a group of pharmaceutical employees who knowingly released HIV infected blood products onto the open market. Once Bessho starts following this "vampire" though things get very complex. Is she really the villain and is her husband really attempting to stop her killing spree? And how will Bessho's newly discover HIV status effect the lives of everyone involved?
Now from that brief plot synopsis a couple of things become immediately apparent. First, "Love - Zero = Inifinity" is obviously not a film like Norman René's superb 1990 AIDS drama "Longtime Companion" or Japan's abysmal entry into the same genre, Junichi Suzuki's "Remembering the Cosmos Flower". If there's any equivalent here it would have to come from darker territory and a director who Sato has been increasingly compared to in the past few years, Canada's own David Cronenberg. "Love - Zero = Inifinity", like much of Cronenberg's ouevre is concerned with fears of illness, death and bodily transformation and the morbid fascination with the natural sexual urges that may bring us closer to them. Also, the often disjointed plot doesn't involve any classic vampire characters who cringe at the sight of a crucifix or crumble from a hint of garlic or holy water. Both of these points, as well as the fact that there are softcore sex scenes taking place about every 10-minutes, work against the film in terms of appealing to a mainstream audience, but I highly doubt that that's who Sato was trying to appeal to when he made "Love - Zero = Infinity".
This is a film that stresses ideas and images over linear plot, mood over narrative and one that self-consciously updates the vampire mythos of Stokers "Dracula" and the 19th-century hysteria around syphilis for our 21-century HIV/ AIDS crisis. Sato's repeated images of crowds of people rushing past each other at the famed Shibuya Crossing as our lone "vampire" stands stock still in black is used perfectly to convey the paranoia of how one individual can randomly unleash an epidemic. The playground of the junkyard where the two nihilistic teenagers conduct their intravenous love affair is worthy of inclusion in a novel by J.G. Ballard. And in an age when pornography's only outward concession to the HIV/AIDS crisis is having male actors appear wearing condoms Sato's clever use of latex covered mattresses and copious amounts of lubricant is an over the top but visually effective acknowledgment of safe sex. While the look of Sato's film suffers at times from its miniscule budget and some may find its title's re-working of the "Silence = Death" slogan used by HIV/ AIDS activists during the 80s a bit offensive, "Love - Zero = Infinity" ultimately packs more ideas into its 62 minutes than many full length feature films do in twice that time. For anyone looking for an intelligent and artful twist on the concept of vampirism and Bram Stoker's use of it as a metaphor for a world dealing with a dire illness then run out and rent this film!