Death Powder is a 1986 Japanese cyberpunk body horror film, written and directed by Shigeru Izumiya. Izumiya is mostly known as a poet/folk singer with a career spanning from the 1970s that is still ongoing, with a huge discography of dozens of albums. Outside of music, Izumiya is a prolific actor who has over 150 credits to his name for both acting and voice acting.

In the near future, three conspirators capture a very special android named Guernica. The group brings her to a deserted warehouse and ties her to a cot, but the android secretes a reality-altering substance that causes the abductors to slowly lose their minds as they hallucinate unspeakable terrors and undergo unnatural transformations.


Incredibly experimental in nature, Death Powder is noted as being one of the first Japanese films to explore elements of cyberpunk aesthetics in cinema – predating Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime adaptation of Akira (1988) as well as Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989). Although not as widely known as its counterparts, the film is an outstanding representation of the genre that fully embraces its industrial aesthetic with dimly lit environments and gritty textures. This distinct visual style maintains an overall sense of unease and dread. Furthermore, when combined with the film’s use of body horror and special effects, this aspect easily conveys this grim dystopian setting.

Additionally, an atypical approach to cinematography certainly adds to Death Powder’s distinct visual design. Utilising disorientating and unorthodox camerawork throughout, the composition thrusts the audience into a similar discombobulation as the unfortunate protagonists. With shaky Dutch angles, irregular camera positioning, and tight pans are thrown at the viewer at a breakneck pace with few moments of respite.

Death Powder 1986

Moreover, the representation of each character hallucinating their own personal hellscape through visual effects further increases this level of disorientation, with psychedelic colour changes and various editing techniques. This distinct visual style, when combined with the film’s cacophony of bewildering sounds that serve as the film’s score, delivers a fever dream of unrelenting disorientation.

Ambiguous by design, the film’s non-linear structure and lack of driven narrative can deliver a perplexing story, mostly serving as a loose framework to deliver its experimental visuals. However, its deliberate pacing allows for an adequate level of suspense to build throughout, delivering scenes thick with tension yet without detail, adding a perplexing and dreamlike quality to the story

An underrated piece of V-cinema, Death Powder is a must-see for fans of Japanese horror and those seeking a cinematic experience that pushes boundaries and challenges conventional storytelling. Although the film’s composition may be off-putting to some, those able to subvert their inquisitive nature are sure to get the most out of this style of experimental filmmaking.

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