Japanese Grue Vol. 1
— Joshua Samford
For all of those not accustomed to my writing habits, or for those who haven’t visited my site to see what the general ratio of foreign-to-US-made films are – I am a pretty big fan of Asian cinema. From Hong Kong to South Korea and on back to Japan – I support all of my Asian posse. I cannot lie though, the one nation that really pushed me into becoming a Asian Cinema psycho – was definitely Japan. The land of the rising sun. Nippon, as the natives sometimes refer to it. China, as dumb people sometimes refer to it. So, after witnessing a few pretty crazed flicks as of late I’ve decided to do a three part piece on these films. I’d like to delve a bit into the dark side of Asian Cinema and I would like to get some exposure out there for those of us with a taste for a bit of the extreme. These are films that are not going to please everyone, and aren’t meant to – that is obvious from the get-go. I think it’s time for RC to go to the dark side for just a bit and get our hands dirty, unlike many genre publications. Hopefully I do not dissapoint. Going back to the topic of Japanese cinema however, one of the first films that truly caught my attention from the recent swerve of Japanese horror/exploitation, and a film that forever changed the way I looked at cinema, was Battle Royale. I first saw Battle Royale on a bootleg back when it was first released in 2000. Hard to believe it has almost been seven years, and it’s even harder to believe I have been in on the “scene” (though admittedly not as much this recent year past) for the better part of a decade. I’m starting to feel old here people. Anyway, Battle Royale changed my life and it changed many others. It showed a childlike innocence caught in a whirlwind of violence and trauma inflicted from the close-mindedness of the elders in a society based around strict obedience. It was a film that spoke very harshly but carried a very in-depth message for Japanese, and all cultural societies. It was a darker Lord of the Flies for a new generation, and due to the violence and taking place in a post-Columbine era, became a film for a niche audience. Truly a crying shame, but those who were looking for something new, found a very special film.
Now, Battle Royale is a much different sort of film than the likes I aim to discuss in this article. Battle Royale, despite what some might try and convince you – is not really all that exploitive. Sure, there is violence, but much like Audition it is only to further the plot or to give the film an edginess, tension or in some way or another to fulfill a cinematic mission. The flicks I intend to cover today, well, they’re a little more blatant – a little harsher. I won’t go out and say they aren’t without merit, or that they have no artistic merit – but who is to say when the films aren’t even subtitled, right? The Japanese may have some very well respected filmmakers in the foreground developing brilliant works on a daily basis; but much like many Japanese subcultures, there is an underbelly. When it comes to fetishes and disturbing visuals, I think the Japanese pretty much have a handle on the top position in terms of output in pretty much any field or genre. The extreme gore movement in Japan, at least in terms of the faux-snuff subgenre, developed hugely with the Guinea Pig series. Covering the Guinea Pig flicks in this day and age, especially for the gorehounds out there, is about as useful as beating a deceased horse. Horror fans the world over should know about this series at this point, but I will give some backstore. The Guinea Pig series is most widely known for its first two episodes in particular, The Devil’s Experiment and Flowers of Flesh and Blood. The first film (Devil’s Experiment) featured a young woman being tortured and brutalized by a gang of young men, before having her eye punctured and being murdered. Flowers would push the limits even further, generally being a snuff film based VERY LOOSELY on a Japanese manga about a killer obsessed with his flower garden and a beautiful young woman. The story is perversely turned into that of a man kidnapping a woman, dressing like a samurai and then in full graphic detail slowly dismembering her before disembowling her, removing her eyeball and sucking on it – and ending with a decapitation via an axe. The film remains one of the most controversial underground gore films of all time, due mostly to the overly talked about situation involving Charlie Sheen seeing a copy and reporting it to the FBI thinking he had witness a true snuff film. A lot of people give him a hard time over that, but on a bootleg VHS that has been duped a billion times with no subtitles and many scenes of plot development cut out – I could definitely see buying into it as well. As for the Guinea Pig series as it continued on it became a bit more tied to a comedy element that kept popping up. One other standout would be Mermaid In A Manhole which featured an artist finding a Mermaid in the local sewers, bringing her back to his home and using the puss from the disgusting boils on her body as a paint mixture… before of course ultimately killing her at the end of the film. Another nasty flick, and ultimately the series was done for. The Guinea Pig films, despite how disturbing and disgusting some may rightfull feel they are – for the horror genre, they were an astonishing contribution. Shot on video to save money for FX, these features were made for that one intent of showing the absolute most extreme things they could – and it is everything that filmmakers who delve into violent situations in their films tend to avoid becoming, but the Guinea Pig series enjoyed its success due to the lowest-common-denominator statistics but for the wonders it did for the gore subgenre and the creativity involved in the special effects; you can not deny the effect they have had on the world since their inception. To what degree, that’s all debateable. Regardless, to this day the Guinea Pig films (even after a decade and rolling) still stand as some of the most brutal film works ever made. When any new film comes along standing as the “sickest” on the market, there’s always that question as to whether it lives up to Flowers of Flesh and Blood.
That isn’t to say all films dealing with such extremes can’t have some artistic merit to them. There are some truly sick and disturbing films that are as equally respected in many fields and not just the extreme gore category. Films like Kichiku: Dai Enkai The Banquet of the Beasts and Organ are both very much on the avant garde side of the cinematic spectrum, but are extreme to the N’th degree. Kichiku taking place on a college campus around a group of left wing radicals who are lost in a haze after their leader who has set the course for them is locked away and soon commits suicide. With no sure leader to replace him, his psychotic girlfriend takes over the group, and soon paranoia, uncertainty and violent tendencies take over until the film culminates with a bloodbath. Kichiku is a flick that some people have a hard time with, due to the two hour film being split almost in two in terms of plot achievements. The first half is all about the set-up, and can drag on showing these characters in their boring little uneventful (but happy) lives – and then the second half takes everything away from them all. The second film, Organ, is even harder for some to swallow. Made by Kei Fujiwara, the woman who worked as cinematographer for Shinya Tsukamoto on his opus of cyberpunk (and also arguably one of those films that helped instigate the insurgence of completely avant garde and violent work amongst many filmmakers all throughout Japan) Tetsuo, as well as being the lead actress in that film and in some of his early shorts. To say Kei had quite a career is to put things lightly. When she made Organ, well, I don’t know who could have been ready for it. It is already difficult to find a female who would be interested in making somewhat experimental films – but one filled with as many grizzly and disgusting visuals as those found in Organ… she is definitely an island to herself, that is for certain. She is a highly respectable artis, and Organ, like it or not is a film that stays with you for a very long time. Dealing with themes involving organics, vegetation, the state of the planet and blood, blood, blood. Organ is one of the few films out there that after sitting through so many gross and disgusting frames in front of my eyes, my stomach had began to get nervous. People are treated as plants, and Kei shows the similarities between the two. Roots are transplanted with bloody, disgusting intestinal tissue. The visuals of the film are haunting, and make you wonder what could happen if she and Tsukamoto could team up once more and see what the two could produce. I would lay money on something fairly disturbing in some fashion.
I could continue on this subject and forego the three event status of these articles, I really could as right now I could continue typing two more hours and bang out everything that needs to be said – but my main point of milking the series is to keep all of my thoughts spread out and cover as much on the subject at hand. Not to mention, who would read all of that on one page anyway? So I’m going to draw this volume of my little travelogue to a close. Hopefully these will open the eyes of some extreme horror buffs in the making, and bring a few flicks to their attention. So until next month, this is Josh signing off and in the meantime, dare you peak at these monsters of celluloid? If so, keep repeating to yourself… it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie…
— Joshua Samford