Watcher in the Attic (1976)
Director: Noboru Tanaka
Writers: Edogawa Rampo (story) and Akio Ido
Starring: Junko Miyashita, Hiroshi Osa, and Renji Ishibashi

The Plot: In 1923 Tokyo, Lady Minako (Junko Miyashita) is the owner of a boarding house that receives numerous very strange tenants. Amongst the numerous characters floating in and out of the boarding house is Goda (Renji Ishibashi), a voyeur of the highest order. Goda hides away in the attic, watching everything that goes on through tiny holes in the ceiling. During one of Goda’s various evenings spent spying on Minako, he catches her in the process of committing murder. This leads to an unhealthy obsession for Goda and the remainder of the film shows him trying to impress Minako. What follows is a dark and disturbing tale of morbid infatuation that seems to spiral further and further down.

The Review
For Japanese exploitation geeks, the combined elements of Noboru Tanaka directing, Junko Miyashita and Renji Ishibashi starring, in a movie based upon a story by Edogawa Rampo, it all seems too intriguing to pass up. With such familiar names and talents involved, there was potential gold within this roman porno from the golden era. In fact, it seems as if Watcher in the Attic is a film that has been considered “gold” by just about every respectable film critic that has tackled the movie. It is a title that has been so popular that it has earned more than one remake within recent years and its influence is considered to be very far reaching within the world of Japanese exploitation. Without putting words in anyone’s mouth, it seems as if the movie is a pretty typical example of very daring Japanese arthouse cinema of the seventies. With that said… this is a movie that opens with a man dressed as a clown performing cunnilingus on a woman in fancy attire. Surely, it goes without saying that this is a movie that speaks to a very select viewership. For fans of Japanese cinema of this particular era, this movie is a must buy purely for its noteworthy history. For my personal tastes, however, the rich history of Watcher in the Attic is probably the most intriguing aspect of the film.

To state the obvious, the style and feel of the movie comes across as highly surreal. In this regard, the movie completely lives up to its hype. Promoted as an erotic film with aspirations of the highest artistic integrity, the movie tries to be every bit of this. The plot is completely lost at times, with all of the main focus being laid upon the visual depth of the film. After twenty minutes or so, it becomes obvious that our story will be told in a very episodic manner. There is much more emphasis laid on heavy visual compositions than telling a straightforward narrative. While watching, the viewer gets an idea that Watcher in the Attic will build a central thesis, but there are more subtextual elements to be deciphered from the movie than any single all-encompassing idea. Numerous views of contemporary sexual relations within Japan are expounded upon in the film, but this isn’t a movie where the audience is going to need a roadmap to figure out exactly what is going on. The story remains mostly literal throughout its running time and the showy visuals should prove to be more than enough to keep audiences engaged.

The sex within the movie is surprisingly erotic. That might sound rather redundant when speaking about a supposedly titillating film genre, but so often these movies present sex in the exact same fashion. Lots of rather ordinary sex that is spiced up only by the amount of “kink” that is injected into the plot. Watcher in the Attic instead shows sex in a very dreamlike manner, but doesn’t simply go for the soft-focus feel that many audiences might expect. The sweat and the dynamic of what is shown and what is insinuated… it’s all quite masterful. The acts performed, however, may not be of the kinky variety that many roman porno fans might expect. This is a fairly straightforward erotic thriller in many regards. There’s very little to see in terms of bodily fluids or outrageous behavior. The sex could be seen as mundane in comparison to many of the shockers that this genre would later produce. The outrageous bits within this particular movie are intended to come from its use of violence. The film could be likened to a more subtle and earlier version of Assault! Jack the Ripper. Both movies are about a pair of bizarre lovers who find their infatuations leading to a number of deaths along the way. The macabre content is nothing new for Tanaka, but it isn’t likely to astound or befuddle many members of the audience. While not bad because of it, the shocks and peculiarities in Watcher are few and far between.

Watcher in the Attic is part of a loose trilogy of movies which teamed director Noboru Tanaka with Junko Miyashita that have been called his “Showa Trilogy.” The title from this “series” seems to take its name from the Showa period in Japanese history, which took place between 1926 and 1989. These films in particular seem to take place between the end of the Taisho period (1912-1926) and the beginning of Showa. The first entry in this series was the legendary A Woman Called Sada Aba, which takes place in the first ten years of the Showa period, while Watcher in the Attic is the second movie in the series and it takes place right on the cusp of the Showa era. Finally, there was Beauty’s Exotic Dance: Torture!, which also takes place during Taisho. Whether or not these films were truly intended to be a “trilogy” in the strictest definition of the word, I am not sure, however they do stand out highlights for both Tanaka and Miyashita.

The Conclusion
Mileage is sure to vary from viewer to viewer. There are many things to observe and absorb with Watcher in the Attic, but at the end of the day it is a fairly obtuse title. With little going on in the plot and focusing primarily on the sex lives of a handful of people, this isn’t a movie that will sucker audiences in due to its entertainment factor. Shockingly, even as a movie that is just seventy minutes long, Watcher in the Attic occasionally drags. The numerous sex scenes start to feel monotonous and manage to somehow drag down what is ostensibly “just a sex movie.” Despite the slow build, the movie is an interesting character examination that focuses on some very dramatic changes within a select number of characters. With intense imagery and sensual scenes (that may be a bit on the redundant side at times), this strange sex movie will manage to stick in the head of its viewers for quite a while.