PLOT: Yukio is a successful doctor, decorated for his service in the war. His wife Rin is an amnesiac. Yukio discovers he has an identical twin from whom he was separated at birth—a resentful and savage twin, bent on revenge.
Tsukamoto adapted the story from a 1924 short story by Edogawa Rampo (“the Japanese Edgar Allan Poe”).
In an unusual move, fellow director Takashi Miike assembled a 15-minute “making of” featurette to accompany the film on DVD.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Our first glimpse of the twin in the shadows. He looks just like Yukio, but wears ragged robes and a bizarre fur earmuff that covers half of his face. He shakes like he’s having a fit, then approaches the camera by doing cartwheels. It’s scary enough to give someone a heart attack.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Eyebrowless clan; somersaulting doppelganger
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Pulling back from the unbridled mania of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and similar body-horror experiments, Shinya Tsukamoto proves that he can generate cold sweats with a more subtle, purely psychological approach. With its deep shadows and determined pace, Gemini generates an uncanny horror that seeps into your bones.
PLOT: A blind sculptor kidnaps a model and imprisons her in his studio.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Blind Beast scores two points in its weird ledger: one for the set design (which is almost always described as Daliesque), and another for its irrationally sadomasochistic third act. At its core, however, it’s an odd and engaging “pinku” (as Japanese softcore erotic films of the 1960s were dubbed) that’s reminiscent of 1965’s The Collector (although the scenario was adapted loosely from a Edogawa Rampo story). The sight of the sightless sculptor’s bizarro studio would have gotten Blind Beast shortlisted had we reviewed it earlier, but given the limited available slots, we see Beast as close, but not quite worthy of being named one of the 366 weirdest movies of all time.
COMMENTS: Blind Beast quickly gets in gear after the abduction, which is handled in an absurdly economical ten minutes. The blind antihero selects his model victim by feeling up a sculpture of her, then steals into her apartment posing as a masseur. With the help of his trusty sighted assistant, who also happens to be his mother, he soon has beautiful young Aki imprisoned inside his remote warehouse studio, and this is where the “fun” begins. The blind sculptor’s studio utilizes a fetishized geometry, with high-relief assemblies of (female) body parts lining each of the eight walls, enclosing two giant, pliant sculptures of prone nude women (one on her stomach, one on her back). The blind, stumbling hunter and his victim chase each through this corporeal funhouse; he clutches a giant nipple as he bargains for her compliance. Later, they will make love—of their strange sort—while rolling about on the humungous feminine torsos. You probably have never seen that before.
The middle part of the film involves Aki’s machinations as she tries to escape, until a near-miss attempt permanently costs her her freedom and sets the bizarre third act into motion. These scenes work well as a standard woman-in-peril thriller. When she fails to sneak past the blind man fail thanks to the interference of his maternal assistant, Aki switches to a psychological ploy. She pretends to fall in love with her captor and plays son and mother against each other. Of course, were she to escape so easily, the movie would end prematurely; and the movie has a better—or worse—fate in store for Aki.
The blind man’s studio is as sick a materialization of a male libido as could be imagined. His love/hate relationship with his mother suggests an Oedipal complex. Still, the psychology here is only deep by the standards of pink movies. The sadomasochistic finale, a sudden and wrenching departure from first two-thirds of the movie, is foreshadowed from the film’s earliest moments, but the movie provides no real insights into the pathology. Given the absurd heights of agonizing ecstasy its characters travel to, how could it? Their obsessions are perverse, and the tale depicts them poetically without trying to explain them. Blind Beast is surprisingly coy with its nudity, most of which is only seen in still photographs from the opening art exhibition. Mako Midori’s breasts are skillfully hidden throughout the film, and a corner of a nipple is a rare and tantalizing sight. This teasing modesty gives the erotic visuals even more impact, while serving the theme of frustrated voyeurism. Blind Beast would be nearly impossible to distribute today, through licit channels, due to its outdated attitude to consent. Seduction is important to the plot, but Aki willingly (and eagerly) surrenders only after an hour of brutal coercion. And yet, Blind Beast has a sort of innocence about it, largely due to the unreal nature of its psychodrama: a fantasy of total abandon to physical sensation far beyond any rational limits, played out in a subterranean lair of mountainous breasts, dismembered legs, and eyeballs leering from the walls. It’s a space we would never want to visit, but one we can’t look away from.
PLOT: Four experimental stories of sex and madness adapted from the works of Edogawa Rampo: a man regrets a rape, a killer strikes through mirrors, a wife cares for a husband who is a human torso, and a limo driver is obsessed with a stage actress.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: We’ll dismiss it for uneveness, although even the best segments probably would not merit inclusion in a list of the greatest weird movies of all time.
COMMENTS: Rampo Noir is more of a series of visual and stylistic calling cards than it is a tribute to the literary talents of Edogawa Rampo (Tarō Hirai, “the Japanese Edgar Allen Poe,” who selected his pseudonym to pay tribute to the American horror/mystery writer). The narratives here are either nonexistent (“Mars’s Canal,” the impressionistic Rampo-inspired first course), slight (“Caterpillar” and “Crawling Bugs”), or founded on dated pseudoscience (“Mirrored Hell”). Of course, one would not sense what made Poe great by watching Roger Corman‘s Tales of Terror; the four directors here aim at capturing Rampo’s perverse atmosphere (with greater explicitness) rather than showing accuracy to his texts. The results, as might be expected, are all over the map (sometimes within the same segment).
The first film (“Mars’s Canal”) begins with a warning advising your that your disc is not defective. Entirely silent, with deliberately glitchy video, it’s an indulgence by heretofore (and hence) unknown director Suguru Takeuchi. It’s built around one magnificent shot (filmed in Iceland), but even at six minutes long it tries the patience of the average viewer.
In contrast, Akio Jissôji’s “Mirror Hell” is a (relatively) conventional murder mystery, probably the most accessible segment of the omnibus. There is a (somewhat) rational explanation to the mystery of beautiful tea-ceremony teachers who turn up dead, although it does depend on strained early-twentieth century science fiction-style explanations (undiscovered elements with properties that mimic magic, that sort of thing). It also features a Rampo-esque theme that dreams are reality, and that what we think of as life is but a reflection in a mirror, “neither real nor unreal.” It as, as might be expected, filled with multiple mirrors in almost every shot (there’s an interesting composition of mirrors on a beach, each reflecting a different landscape, that evokes a vintage Continental Surrealist painting).
Hisayasu Satô savors the sickness inherent in “Caterpillar.” The story involves the unhealthy relationship between a resentful wife and her war hero husband, now a mute quadruple-amputee, whom she must care for. Satô takes Rampo’s original anti-war parable (which was adapted more accurately in Kôji Wakamatsu‘s feature length film) and focuses almost entirely on the salacious sadomasochistic aspects of the story. Like all of the entries, “Caterpillar” is visually superior, but this one lacks a meaningful reason to exist: Satô’s treatment bludgeons the original’s subtleties, and due to a lack of substance in the main tale he introduces an unnecessary character (a nosy collector who considers the caterpillar a work of art) and shoehorns in a ridiculous appearance by Rampo detective Kogorô Akechi (Asano, reprising his role from “Mirror Hell”). “Caterpillar” may impress some with its perversity, but it doesn’t so as much with the premise it was handed as it should have.
Although this rarely happens in anthologies, in Rampo Noir the best is saved for last. In an inversion of the dynamic we saw with “Caterpillar,” Atsushi Kaneko’s “Crawling Bugs” takes a well-worn idea (the shy, unhinged man obsessed with an unobtainable iconic beauty) and uses style and psychological details to make it feel fresh. There are many odd touches here, from the actress’ bizarre pyramidal hairstyle to alternating inserts of a nebula and an amoeba. While our timid limo-driver suffers from an itchy psychosomatic condition that causes him to feel like he has bugs crawling over his skin, his obsession plays a strange sexual game involving a leech-like bug that crawls over her neck. The glowing forest glade he constructs as an altar to his lady inside of his shabby apartment is a rainbow fantasy refuge that makes us feel as disconnected from reality as he is. “Bugs” is the only segment here that feels like it could stand on its own, and singlehandedly raises the quality of the anthology from “take it or leave it” to “worth watching.”
Tadanobu Asano appears in every episode and is clearly the main domestic draw. Of the directors, only Hisayasu Satô is somewhat known in the West, for exploitative sadomasochistic pink movies like Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture (AKA The Bedroom) and Splatter: Naked Blood. Akio Jissôji has made numerous movies not widely seen outside of Japan, but Suguru Takeuchi and Atsushi Kaneko have done nothing of note before or since this.