This review was originally written between 2003-2006 and has since been slightly edited. The opinion remains the same as the original posting, but slight errors have been revised or smoothed out.
Plot Outline: Aki is a fairly popular model throughout Japan who has just made notoriety for posing in some rather sexual photographs that involve some form of sado masochism. After she has a brief experience with a man at the museum rubbing a statue of her made for the exhibit, she returns to normal and has a masseuse come over to help her relax. Once the masseuse comes over though, it appears he has different intentions. He knocks her out and with the help of his mother (Noriko Sengoku) he drags her back to his art studio where he plans to keep her forever. The two of them will go around in circles and eventually lead themselves down a dark and sordid masochistic street.
I finished watching Blind Beast about three hours ago as I’m writing this, and yet, I still haven’t the faintest clue what I thought of it. I’m not even sure what kind of rating I’ll be giving it, I think it’s going to be high but part of me just isn’t sure. The film looks fantastic, has a masterful score and is truly a sordid and disturbing tale, but I’m not sure how well realized it was. Part of me says that it was dark, tragic and extremely powerful. All of these things are true, but part of me says whatever message the film had was muddled and brought about too late to resonate with the audience. Like a succession of images that no matter how beautiful they are can have no impact on their viewer because just as you start to see what the creator was alluding to, the images are gone and so are the impact. Unlike say, something like Audition where the brutal and hedonistic images remain burned into your mind days after watching it, it’s the smaller and darker scenes that stay with me just three hours after the climax of the film. I remember the disturbing aspects of Blind Beast most definitely, but they aren’t what felt most important in the film. When I think of Blind Beast I think of that first shot when Aki awakens in the studio. Only one light shines down on her face, everything else hidden. It’s such a striking and mind blowing shot, but what makes Blind Beast truly amazing is that almost every scene features something as equally as memorable or groundbreaking. So here I am, moving on to the second paragraph and yet I still am not quite sure what I will rate it or what I truly think of it. Maybe getting my thoughts out there will help me judge things more accordingly.
It’s a film where the positive aspects are in far greater supply than the negatives, yet the negatives are resoundingly powerful. Not that I dislike the film in the least, it’s just it sometimes get downright frustrating. During the entire middle half of the film Aki tries her best to seduce and trick Michio, each time with him falling for her tricks. I’m not entirely sure if it fits his character or not, on one hand seeing the relationship he has with his mother one might conclude he is emotionally disturbed and is willing to believe Aki’s lies. Then again, he’s a fairly intellectual guy as he has developed these intricate artistic theories. So, I find it just a little bizarre that he isn’t able to see through her lies which are relatively cliche. The ‘woman seducing man to free herself’ gimmick is probably older than the ‘prisoner pretending to have stomach cramps’ routine. If thirty or so minutes were to be comprised almost wholly of this, I really wish they could have thought of a better way to do it. Granted, Mako Midori would definitely make any straight male quiver with delight to be strung along with such seduction, but it still feels forced. That’s the largest complaint I have about the film, mostly because of how much screen time this considerably lame subplot takes up. When the film finally switches pace at the end, things definitely get more interesting but that doesn’t mean I would want this area more elaborated. The quick change of tone (from black to incredibly black) throws it’s audience for a loop and after actually growing some form of admiration for these two characters everything seems to come from left field. I’ve made the point several times (a few on this site I think, but a million times in discussion) that if a film can actually have any kind of impact, whether the reaction is me vomiting in a bucket or getting misty eyed, I have no choice but to admire said film. After thinking it over, and waiting one whole day to start writing this second paragraph I’ve decided that no matter the negative aspects the film may have, I’m doomed to at least have some affection for it.
Since I’ve already mentioned the rather annoying middle half, I might as well continue with the pet peeves I picked up along the way. While the film is beautiful (in a non-beautiful kind of way) and incredibly artistic, it still has the smell of pretension throughout. The conclusion, while amazing in many ways, does nothing but help my point. If you’ve seen the film before, specifically I’m talking about ‘the sculpture’. Try as I might by telling myself “The director was an artist and just expressing himself” I couldn’t help but see some ego within many of the choices he made. This isn’t a big thing, but for those who hate art house flicks, this one might hurt you. Then there’s the star Eiji Funakoshi. While at points I certainly enjoyed his performance, for the most part I found him to be a bit hammy and over the top. I felt the film didn’t necessarily call for that type of performance either. The rest of the things that got to me were small annoyances. Like, during the first half of the film Aki is wearing a white bra & panties but during the last twenty minutes of the film she is somehow wearing black. This is likely a tacky way to symbolize her descent into darkness, but it’s a rather strong. The really positive aspects I have for the film, other than the impact it may have on it’s audience, are really the technical merits. Such as the absolutely jaw dropping cinematography. As I mentioned, almost every scene features some form of amazing lighting, brilliant composition or incredible location. The film is worth seeing for the visuals alone. It has that slick 60s Japanese art feel to the film, but also expands it’s horizon farther than just being ‘groovy’. A film that far outlives the time it was made. Then there’s the score: unbelievable. The music for the film is just amazing. A jangly score that reeks ‘Japanese’, haunting is the best word to describe it. Those are the two things that really blew me away, but the acting on the behalf of Mako Midori and Noriko Sengoku are both very worthy of praise. While I found Michio’s performance rather lacking, Mako Midori was just dead on center. Ranging from highly sexual to frightened or brave in a matter of moments. A surprisingly strong performance in a film that I’m sure is considered rather misogynistic by the feminists in the crowd. Noriko Sengoku who doesn’t have a very large part still surprised me none the less. When I think of her character I think of her raising her voice and screaming at Michio, I think of her eyes like daggers as she sees Aki kiss her son and I think of the jealousy inside of her. It’s not a large part, but she made it seem that way.
It’s a highly tough film to recommend to anyone because every person is going to see something different. Some will see a highly pretentious film that tries harder to shock it’s audience than deliver a clear and cohesive structure. Some will see a work of art. Beautiful yet grotesque, sickening and grand. I really liked the film for it’s power, will that power have the same effect on all who watch it? Absolutely not. So take my recommendation with a grain of salt, if we have similar tastes then perhaps this will be something you’ll like. If we don’t, this will likely be another film that you have no interest in.