(Blind Beast, Japan - 1969)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Eiji Funakoshi, Mako Midori, Noriko Sengoku
Genre: Drama/Horror
Director: Yasuzu Masumura
Screenplay: Yoshio Shirasaka based on Edogawa Rampo's story
Cinematography: Setsuo Kobayashi
Composer: Hikaru Hayashi
Runtime: 86 minutes

“If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t satisfy me” – Aki

Blind Beast is an extremely disturbing cinematic experience due to Japan’s constrictive gender and societal structure and the voyeuristic participation of the filmmakers that, in turn, points out the audience’s commiseration. The main character Michio (Eiji Funakoshi) was born blind and has never had anyone but his mother (Noriko Sengoku), so three decades later he remains an undeveloped child. His mother is devoted and dutiful, but women are manipulative in a sexist society because they aren’t supposed to have any power, thus forcing them to wield whatever influence they can, usually while pretending not to be doing so. Sexuality is about all a single young woman like Aki (Mako Midori) is able to exploit to get her way with Michio, while the mother can use age, experience, and devotion, but ultimately she’ll lose out to her nubile counterpart, which should be fine as that’s part of her sibling’s maturation process. But the larger point director Yasuzo Masumura & writer Edogawa Rampo are making is man is handed everything in either relationship, thus stunting their growth in that regard. Man simply says what he wants and the woman is expected to serve it up, so how could a mature give and take relationship possibly develop?

The creepy plot has Michio and his mother kidnapping nude model Aki so Michio can use her as his muse. Sculpture always filled the void of companionship for Michio, enabling his enabler mom to have Michio for herself. The primary conflict is between the mother and Aki, who quickly sees Michio is an incomplete child functioning and “working” from that perspective, hence the gargantuan size of the female body parts sculpted onto each wall of his pitch black lair. Forced into the role of babysitter, Aki decides she might as well give him some private lessons and make a man of Michio. His mother wants him to remain helpless and dependent because, lacking a husband or any other relatives or friends, he’s all she has.

When Aki refuses to play the allowed role – plaything – the mother decides not to allow Michio to play with her anymore, helping Aki to escape rather than preventing her as in the past. But it goes horribly wrong as, hormones awakened, Michio finally makes the decision to try to grow up, choosing adult sex to motherly reliance.

Aki and Michio’s mother understand each other all too well. The mom was probably much like Aki 30 or 35 years ago, how else could she have been? Aki understands Michio because his life is so narrowly defined he behaves in an awkward selfish manner that doesn’t even qualify as interaction. His existence has been insular; never having a relationship with someone who wasn’t stuck with him makes him come off as something of a retard even though in his own ways he’s quite intelligent. Michio understands nothing, his disability manifesting into a blindness to what’s available to him. Since Aki doesn’t shelter Michio like his mother does, he suddenly realizes new things not only exist, but might even be worth trying. And since he’s a Japanese man, he simply orders and the woman submits.

Michio swiftly moves from being under a woman, his dutifully dominant mom, to over a woman, his new slave Aki. The sharp transition the film undergoes, which perhaps doesn’t fully work but is also designed to be a gap to big for anyone to properly bridge, is that Michio morphing from naive dependent into a dictator forces Aki from a self sufficient willful seductress to a gleefully submissive slave. Though Michio would normally by a tyrannical heel, it’s near impossible to hate such a pitiable handicapped mama’s boy outcast. Humans can become accustomed to anything, and he’s had a life of it, while an hour suddenly seems like a lifetime to Aki. The human mind as precariously balanced as it is, she brings herself to not only accept but seem to like most things in order to maintain some semblance of sanity.

The situation was far less dangerous when Aki was a cunning, conniving trickster hell bent on escape. Once she cedes her will to Michio to allow him to become a man perverse art vs. mental and emotional manipulation merges into a dangerous addiction. Aki remains nothing more than an objectified plaything, the games simply become less innocent as Michio “matures”. Her only role becomes the submissive sex toy the real artist she willingly posed for more subtly portrayed her as. Aki constantly encourages her clueless despot to render “his” desires upon her. He gladly agrees to her ideas: screwing, biting, beating, and ultimately dismembering her. It’s all new to him, and once again there’s no one around to suggest an alternative. Trapped in a dark, dank cell they must come up with something to pass the time, so they essentially succumb to whatever she can think of. Their exploration of the senses other than the impossible one, vision, becomes so acute it can only go so far before pain is the only enduring stimulant.

Yasuzo Masumura’s dark fetishistic artfully grotesque film is clearly among the greatest pieces of psychosexual cinema. The camera participates in the debauchery rather than simply recording it. Similar to Michael Powell’s landmark Peeping Tom, though in a more surreal and hyperstylized manner, Masumura has Setsuo Kobayashi use the camera to present the characters intense, primal perspective. The unapologetic nature of the presentation, free of distancing and moralizing, makes it utterly unsettling. The overwrought nature of the performances and visual style comes dangerously close to counteracting that. However, rather than make us laugh it off for being as ridiculous as it largely is, it succeeds in depicting the heightened awareness of the senses other than sight as well as the intense focus the unrelenting captivity in a claustrophobic warehouse entails. Masumura’s artful chamber piece is ripe with saturated colors and carefully orchestrated shadows, the bulging female anatomy making the cavernous sets so memorable.

It’s always hard to imagine films like this being made in the 60’s given how far the American films are always behind the curve when it comes to sexual openness. Certainly it’s exploration of sexual roles, identity, and obsession is light years ahead of the Mike Nichols stir creating Carnal Knowledge, made two years later (1971), which due to it’s quaintness is far more successful at looking like a foreign (European) art film than matching their insight into human nature.

Mining the depths of the mind rather than the crevasses of the body, the Japanese pink films were arguably more conducive to art because censorship forbade shots of pubic hair or genitalia. Putting the ridiculousness of the decreed censorship of Blind Beast’s day, or the even more pathetic self censorship of today’s perpetually tepid mainstream cinema, the fact they couldn’t fall back on the money shot, or essentially deliver nothing beyond like all the unwatchable porn the other California factories churn out today, forced a certain brand of creativity. Masumura’s movie isn’t particularly lurid or physically violent, though part of what makes it a high quality film is it’s eerily erotic and brutally psychologically violent. Edogawa Rampo was known for his tales of obsessive-compulsive behavior, and Masumura brings this corrosive gender role satire to the screen as an honest, highly artistic depiction of adult subjects, delving deeper into our latent fears than he probably would have been able to in a traditional studio film.



* Copyright 2007 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *