Blind Beast (Moju, 1969) is based on a short story by Edogawa Rampo, a classic Japanese mystery writer whose nom de plume is a Japanese misrponunciation of Edgar Allen Poe, who was Rampo's literary hero.
A very fine film about his life was distributed in the USA a few years ago as Rampo or The Mystery of Rampo (1994), & a couple of his stories occur as mini-films within that larger film.
This arty film of sadomasochism approaches being some sort of pompous soft core porn but never really falls over the edge. It's excesses are too heartfelt to seem merely pompous.
Since even today it is a most unusual tale of sexual obsession & madness, it must have been all the more radical for 1969, although seriously treated sadism tales are not as unusual for Japanese cinema.
In some ways Blind Beast plays a reversal on the Kobo Abe novel & film, Woman of the Dunes, in which a man is kept captive in the bottom of a sandpit with an ant-tiger of a woman for his lover.
In Blind Beast, a famed bondage photographer's young model is kidnapped by a blind psycho momma's boy & held captive in his iron-walled art studio/prison.
The studio is an expressionist environment of heaped up giant statues of eyeballs, noses, arms, legs, breasts, & a central landscape of female torso. Visually this is quite stunning.
At first the blind beast's captive, Aki (Mako Midori), struggles by means of psychological warfare against her captor, Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), as well as his demented mom (Noriko Sengoku).
I was captivated by the expressions on her face as she cajoles & manipulates & scores points, knowing as she does that she can speak with an enticing tone & Michio can never see that she's glowering at him with her own brand of menace.
But at some point the young woman's inate masochism begins to be her key motivation, whether because she has gone mad as she said would happen to her in captivity, or because it really is the best she can make of a bad situation.
By the time her bid for power over the blind beast has won her the complete authority she had sought, escape is no longer desired or consequential.
Though insane, Michio is also naive & immature, & would do almost anything for his captive -- except let her go. Through Aki, Michio wishes to act out & create his philosophy of a new art form which is totally tactile.
When the "touch" performances become sexual, then Ępain-oriented, it is only a short step to scarification & vampirism, practiced in the darkness of Michio's weird studio as Aki cajoles & Michio weeps like the eternal momma's boy he remains.
There are many moments that for all their dementia are almost spiritual, as when the captive goes blind in sympathy with her captor.
It's hard to convey by mere synopsis what a fine work of art this is, as it takes subject matter that is usually pure exploitation & makes it into something unexpectedly great.
The ending is one of the most beautifully disburbingly sensual grotesqueries I have seen in cinema, though other films do come to mind that equal it, & those are also Japanese, such as Oshima's Empire of Passion (Ai no borei, 1978) or Double Suicide at Sonezaki (Sonezaki Shinju, 1978) starring a young Kaji Meiko, this latter also directed by Blind Beast director Yasuzo Masumura.
Blind Beast could easily have been merely a vulgar tacky film, but the extremism is still sufficiently Rampo's to be literature. Yasuzo Masumura was a giant of the New Wave Cinema of the time, & in the horrific romance of Aki & Michio, he created an erotic horror film that is transcendent in its perversity.
On one level the semi-remake Blind Beast vs Killer Dwarf (Mujo tai Issun-boshi, 2001) is a textbook case of how perverse material much more apt to result in a ruinously bad film, & compared to Masumura's original, Teruo Ishii's version is an abomination.
Everything that became romanticist in the earlier film becomes revolting in the new version. But they are distinct visions. Personally I found it a terrible, terrible failure.
But it's not absurd to suppose some would prefer the for-the-jugular gross vision of Ishii over the artful demented romanticism of Masumura.
Ishii had been for a while a moderate commercial success when in the late '60s & 1970s, when Japanese theaters were losing audiences, he made a handful of over-the-top s/m samurai films which brought in at least the male crowd.
Some of these films were really very, very good, & not all were quite "pinku" or softcore, though they had some extreme content, especially tales of beautiful gangster girls who get revenge with swords.
His "classic" period ranged from films assaultive of women like Female Punishment of the Tokugawa (Tokugawa Onna Keigokushi, 1969) or Inferno of Torture (Tokugawa Irezumishi Seme Jigoku, 1969), to almost-feminist seeming yakuza-eiga gangster-films with valorous heroines, i.e., The Red Silk Gambler (Hijirimen bakuto, 1972) or Black Cat's Revenge (Kaidan nobori ryu, (1970), & always violent.
Changing laws & changing tastes put an end to the "pinku" or softcore decade, & Ishii's career pretty much ended. Despite that he probably could've done other genres just as well, he'd developed a reputation that was no longer regarded as commercially significant.
Then in the early '90s he made a comeback of sorts, rediscovered by exploitation fans for his kitsch classics, & able to make a quarter-dozen cheezy films near the end of his life, for the "V" market of direct-to-video cheapies.
These last films lack the appeal of his classic pinku & to me just look cheap. But he really was making what he wanted to make, as these final films were definitely not done for the money, of which there was very little.
Resembling nothing so much as it resembles a Guy Madden film, Blind Beast vs Killer Dwarf is a macabre avant garde excursion into sheer nuttiness, inspired by two sadistic mystery tales of Edogawa Rampo. It takes place in an alterate world that seems to exist entirely in director Teruo Ishii's garage.
A blind slimy-mouth pervert (Hisayoshi Hirayama) is after Miss Mizuko Ranko (Mutsumi Fujita), star of the Moulin Rouge, a gay bar probably in Tokyo.
This monstrous chap has one yellow-fogged eye, the other white. The Moulin Rouge act is more of a grimy gay bar show of amateur drag queens plus Miss Ranko.
As Ranko caterwalls a sad tune, I really liked her gorgeous talentlessness. Teruo Ishii seems really to be having a good joke on his own dime.
There's a long scene of park faggots licking & hugging, followed by a nudy shower scene of Miss Ranko getting rubbed down by a serving girl.
The narrator is Monzo (Ririi Furankii), "a writer of cheap detective stories," He follows teh weird dwarf Jiro Issunboshi (Ritoru Furankii, aka "Litlte Frankie," formerly "seen" inside a baby Godzilla suit in Gojira vs Supersogojira, 1994) through the park & watches him waylay a drunk & steal his ring. But the real crimes of the dwarf is in kiling people & stealing body parts. As Monzo pursues him in the park, the dwarf turns into torii gates.
Like Alice down the rabbit hole, Miss Ranko slips behind a mirror into the Blind Beast's tactile world of darkness & walls shaped like body parts. The blind beast's voice demands she become his lover then his bride.
She's reduced to a sex slave to the Blind Beast, a little surprised that she has begun to enjoy herself.
She enters more & more deeply into the sensual, tactile world of the blind, until she pities whoever can see.
At film's end, elderly Tatsuro Tamba, a big samurai star when he was in his prime, turns up to reveal the plaster statues have people in them. He exclaims, "Peerless Satan!" & the film is over. Tamba had become a notoriously horny old fart who sometimes took roles so he could fondle certain stars. I can only guess that's why he turned up in this turkey.
Obviously this is by no stretch of the imagination a good film, but it's honestly what Ishii wanted to make, the culmination of a long life of eccentric & exploitation filmmaking. It's so off the wall it is adamantly worth seeing, though for most viewers it'll take some patience to make it to the end.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl