Director: Yasuzo Masumura
Screenplay: Yoshio Shirasaka
Cast: Eiji Funakoshi (as Michio Sofu); Mako Midori (as Aki Shima); Noriko Sengoku (as Shino)
Synopsis: After posing for a series of erotic photographs and installation pieces, model Aki Shima (Midori) catches the attention of a man named Michio Sofu (Funakoshi). Blind since birth, with his mother Shino's (Sengoku) help he kidnaps Aki while posing as a masseuse, taking her captive in their home. Inside his studio as a budding sculptor, a shrine to the female form and its individual body parts depicted in sculpture, he desires to create art for the blind by the blind, Aki the most beautiful woman to him from touch and form, desiring to use her as his subject even against her will. In a studio with giant prosthetic limbs on the walls, from a wall of eyes to a wall of breasts, and two giant depictions of the female in the centre, Aki attempts to escape by manipulating his naivety with actual women, only to set off what will lead to the ultimate pleasure and the ultimate pain.
Ero-guro, or under its full title erotic-grotesque-nonsense ("ero guro nansensu"), denotes an artistic style that on opposite sides of the same coin the sensual and the horrible exist within the same moment. This could be a troubling artistic for some especially with modern standards of political correctness with its fetishisation of death and sex within one another but at the same time, fitting the apparent paradox of the concept, it could as much fit modern standards of attitude in the acceptance of such concepts and growingly accepted sexual fetishes such as S&M, only taken to its most extreme as fantasy pieces. The most important part - in manga, in music, in art - of this Japanese aesthetic style, as with body horror and transgressive styles from other countries, is that in its perfect state, the ideal, it's not an exhibit for misogyny or crass depictions of atrocity and perversion but depictions of sex (Eros) and death (Thanatos) which purposely cause reactions to provoke the viewer and is inherently gender neutral. Even if it's still offensive to some, the ideal version of ero-guro-nonsense for myself as a fan would be indiscriminate to gender, an equal opportunity aesthetic for male and female audiences to take reactions from without a bias in the content.
The other important factor, which Blind Beast also shows, is that it's not necessarily gore and intestines being thrown about that's ero-guro, something that becomes apparent even as an amateur in my knowledge of another culture's aesthetic concept. Deformity, the unnatural and the strange can qualify, which could also be used to disrupt views and biases in social contexts such as disability, something which as a style suited for horror could have a lot of great potential for provoking thought as well as pushing the bar in terms of squeamish content. It evokes as much films like Takashi Miike's satire Visitor Q (2001) as much as straightforward disturbing horror movies and comics. It is also important to note, if I'm to learn how to quote the term ero-guro properly, one individual whose published work is on my reading list and is central for the term, the legendary author Edogawa Ranpo. Ranpo, it must be stated, was famous beyond this genre, writing anything from children's stories to detective tales, all of which including his more grotesque material being adapted or referenced throughout Japanese pop culture. Teruo Ishii's infamous Horrors of Malformed Men (1969) is a great place to start just for trying to cram as many of his more infamous short stories into one narrative as possible, enough in its madness to encourage anyone to find any English translations of even his more sombre, audience friendly penmanship.
A chamber piece - only three actors, minimal number of sets and the most elaborate, Micho's studio, a single giant warehouse - Blind Beast does exemplify the high artistic quality of even the most lurid of Japanese genre films between the sixties and seventies. Like the best of Italian cinema within the same era, there's a general technical quality that sets a good, competent base with the artistry helping with the story and content immensely. Very professional and talented individuals worked on these films with the best ones, like with the Italians, with no difference between sleaze and art in terms of treating it with the same level of professionalism. This is vital as Blind Beast is still incredibly strong in content, not as explicit as other films from the era but still surprising through subtle emphasis instead, the high artistic quality a necessary for this to have worked. A huge factor as to the best of ero-guro in what I've encountered is not the strength of the content in terms of visceral shock necessarily but strong artistic quality; these tales, despite their depravity and perversions, suit scenarios that provoke elegance, sensuality and high art because of their melding of two seemingly different attitudes, needing either a bold visual richness and/or period trappings such as samurai stories or the 1920s setting of pinku softcore film Marquis de Sade's The Prosperities of Vice (1988). Blind Beast is grim and grimy in places, of blood and food left to rot, but in a darkened environment for most of its mere eighty minute run there's still a tranquil tone to the content despite its transgressions.
The film's plot is exceptionally dark in content, more so in this decade, though while it includes risky content, such as Aki falling in love with her captor from force, the right balance of the transgressive subject matter means its equal opportunities transgression as ero-guro should be with both genders, where as a pulp sex horror story it's a cycle of the man and woman eventually becoming the equals. It avoids potential gender discrepancies and stereotypes which can affect work like this - see the Hanzo the Razor trilogy, which director Yasuzo Masumura made the first sequel of, for a more problematic example - as Aki manipulates Michio as much as he breaks her down, eventually both of them becoming sightless beings who can only communicate to each other through physical sex, eventually needing pain to be inflicted on each other for a greater sensual thrill.
Taking its twisting little story seriously, the build up to this finale is entirely based on Michio's likely virginity and lack of knowledge of women beyond touch. The giant prophetic bodies, which the two lead actors have to crawl past and onto continually, are the infamous part of the film but significantly they also state his distance from actual femininity. Whilst his beloved sense touch lead to him, through his mother's help, to being able to touch women intimately and replicate their bodies in elaborate and accurate detail, his complete and utter lack of knowledge of female sexuality and women beyond his doting and protective mother becomes his hindrance, one which Aki can take advantage of to escape. Though he does dominate Aki and eventually rapes her at one point, starting their relationship after, immediately onwards from this act they switch between the dominant and the submissive continually with no gender being superior in their violence sexual passions, both equally lost writhing around their environments both suffering from their wounds given to each other but also thrilled by them. A triangle in the early part of the film between them and his mother is blatantly oedipal as well, thankfully because of the film's brisk length cutting out the need for teasing the fact; its explicitly said as, seeing the giant female bodies in the centre of the studio, Aki not long afterwards makes a comment about Michio having some form of obsession with when he was a baby held at his mother's breast. This builds up as much a strong issue of gender and relationships being skewered in its small story that prevents the film becoming tasteless without any justifiable reason behind such content.
The only thing that might've been interesting to see differently in terms of the aesthetic look is if Blind Beast was shot in monochrome rather than Daieicolor approved colour. Screenshots and posters exist that show the film in black-and-white that would've been incredibly bold if you had seen them moving, causing one to wonder whether the visual difference would have had a drastic effect on the mood especially in terms of the story's tone. Yasuzo Masumura would be as gifted in either case, the film as it stands perfect as it is; he was probably one of the only, if the only, Japanese directors to have been able to learn his craft at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Italy with the potential likes of Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti as teachers. The same level of quality to his more sombre World War II drama Red Angel (1966) is found here in Blind Beast, and can even be found in his own aforementioned Hanzo the Razor sequel.
The music is also memorable in terms of the combinations of genres used for effect. From jazz to classical pieces, it mixes and matches aptly for the shifts of tone in the story well. Sound is important especially for the final scene, metaphor with what you, the final grim act of the film only seen implied, the main star's ultimate act of destructive pleasure given a spine tingling edge that's still strong today from what you only hear. So strong in fact, watched on the same day with a modern film (Eli Roth's The Green Inferno (2013)) with over the top gore, that Blind Beast was the one instead that made me cringe more in its suggestion.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
Originally this was going to be a "Low" due to how subdued and naturalistic the film is in contrast to its subject matter. However it's easy to ignore, when you've made a diet of films like this, how strong it would be to someone who hadn't encountered films like it before, how startling it is or scuzzy it is at times. Maybe even how absurd and silly it is, as the film openly courts being bizarre for the sake of it despites its clear themes. There's a more explicit and usually more honest viewpoint on the corporal living body in a lot of Japanese pop culture, which is scrutinised with only some censorship in what can be depicted, (mostly in terms of censoring genitals and pubic hair on both genders), but also in context of non physical notions such as sexuality. This would be more of a shock, let alone more profoundly weird, for a first time viewer, particularly as despite being limited in what actual content is seen, what is implied is still strong material in its frankness to digest.
And of course you're dealing with a psycho sexual drama mostly set in a room full of giant, prophetic breasts and arms, lovingly rendered in all shapes and sizes, sticking out of the walls with two individuals writhing around the floor in a state of delirious pain on the lap of a giant, headless woman. That's an image that's strange even for a veterans of this type of cinema and original still to this day.
Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Themes: Distortion and Emphasis of Boyd Parts; Giant prophetic limbs; Mutilation; References to Disability; Oedipal Complex; S&M and Sexual Fetishes; Bondage
A real gem of Japanese body horror cinema, immensely stylish and imaginative in its concoction of body horror and drama which can be both treated as a serious, sombre drama but also a perverted erotic film. This blurring of the high and low art is also a factor of the rewarding of ero-guro I've been able to see; while it may seem wrong to find virtue in films like this that reveal in this type of content, and there are probably examples which are just tasteless that I'll thankfully not see, not only does it prove to be more rewarding to do so, but the quality of the best also brings out a real sincerity found in them. The obvious issue that my knowledge on this type of work is limited means that I need to take a film like Blind Beast as an example of learn what ero-guro should be as an aesthetic style in greater detail. It also means that something like this is much more cooler, the right term to use, and memorable as a cult film as its far removed from the words "safe" or "digestible".