CAPSULE: ORGAN (1996)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Kei Fujiwara

PLOT: Detectives investigate an organ harvesting operation.

Still from Organ (1996)

COMMENTS: As a collaborator of —she was in his earliest films, and served as costume designer, cinematographer and female lead in Tetsuo: The Iron Man—Kei Fujuwara boasted a promising résumé. Unfortunately, her two features as director, of which Organ was the first, have proved disappointing—though undoubtedly weird. Although many elements of the Tetsuo aesthetic carry over into her solo work, thematic consistency and narrative drive are not among them. Organ is, instead, a confusing attempt at shock-art cinema that fails to engage many viewers.

Although pitched as a straightforward B-movie/horror narrative, Organ‘s story is related confusingly, with lots of ellipses, flashbacks, scenes and players who are poorly established or cut off prematurely, dreams and hallucinations, and too much time spent on the antics of ancillary characters who add nothing (a toilet-cleaning sequence). Painfully close attention will reveal that the story involves two detectives investigating an organ harvesting cult. One of the cops, Tosaka, is caught by the gang and kept around as a kind of talking houseplant after his limbs are amputated. The other cop, Numata, is taken off the case, but hangs around maintaining a semi-cordial relationship with the kidnappers. Tosaka’s identical twin also starts searching for the newly-minted amputee. Meanwhile, one of the gang freelances as a serial killer preying on schoolgirls. Director Fujiwara herself plays Yoko, the one-eyed enforcer of the harvesting gang, and she’s pissed about the extracurricular killings and sadistically disciplines the culprit (who’s also her brother). A flashback shows how his mom attempted to castrate him (incidentally poking out Yoko’s eye), providing his serial killer motivation. And there are another couple of characters running around who are not properly introduced or explained. It all somehow leads to a drawn out bloodbath with a bunch of characters you don’t care about and can’t easily distinguish fighting each other for reasons you’re not entirely clear about.

Not only is the script a mess, the movie is visually ugly—not at all what you’d expect from Tetsuo‘s cinematographer. Much of the action occurs in deep shadows so that you can’t follow who’s mutilating whom. When it’s not too dark to see what’s going on, it’s garishly overlit, showcasing its dilapidated, bleak alleyway and warehouse sets. The film is full of gruesome, but dull, autopsy-style gore. One character has ridiculous fluorescent green oatmeal caked on him, meant to represent putrefaction. (This effect probably would have looked impressive were the film shot in black and white.)

Then, somewhere in the middle of the movie, Fujiwara stages a lovely opium-fantasy scene in which a schoolgirl claws her way out of a (vaginally-designed) cocoon, only to complain of caterpillars in her belly. This single scene can hardly redeem the entire film, but it does prove Fujiwara has a vivid and sometimes effective imagination, even if her best ideas get buried under muddled execution. Also, this one scene is probably just barely enough to save this ordeal from a “” rating (though potential watchers may want to take into account how close it comes to earning that dreaded designation).

I believe that Fujiwara intended to tell a story here, but an overstuffed script combined with poor editing choices scuttled the enterprise. But I could be wrong; it’s possible the confusion is an intentional strategy. Either way, it’s not much fun.  Organ could be pitched as a Japanese take on a  film with a bit of script doctoring by —but the end result is nowhere as interesting as that description implies.

Fujiwara’s second feature, Id (2005), is essentially a sequel to Organ, set in the same universe, but in the future. A featurette included on the out-of-print Synapse DVD describes Fujiwara’s play “Organ 2” or “Organ Vital,” which has basically the same plot as what would become Id nine years later, and includes what appears to be early footage shot for the film. Sets and settings (the plastic-sheeting draped laboratory, the ghetto-like industrial housing complex with its overgrown alleyways) are reused in Id.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Like TetsuoOrgan is more art film than anything else, but whereas Tetsuo has an energy and drive and visual and technical creativity that engages the viewer, Organ lacks everything but for an occasional shocking idea and some bizarre imagery… One could, were one feeling forgiving, say that the movie is ever-so-slightly reminiscent of a David Lynch film, but one would also have to add ‘on a very bad day.'”–Abraham, a wasted life (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Mondo,” who accurately described it as “a strange and dreary Cronenberg like Japanese film.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Where to watch Organ

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