Blind Beast, from the novel by Japanese mystery writer Rampo Edogawa, is one weird movie. The initial setup is simple: a blind amateur sculptor named Michio kidnaps a semi-famous model called Aki and takes her to his home-cum-studio where he tells her his intentions: because of his disability he is obsessed with touching things and wants that to be a new kind of art, and from that he’s making a sculpture of her. Once he’s done, he’ll let her go. Trouble is, he lives with his mum, and you know what happens when a woman gets between a boy and his mother.
Actually, you don’t, not here. Blind Beast is an insanely demented ode to fetishism and sadomasochism and the never-ending question of “How much is too much?” What starts as a fairly normal mystery quickly spirals into a journey of exploration and transgression.
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Directed by Yasuzo Masumura, the film was propelled by production company Daiei having financial troubles and the onset of television, which led to them looking for the kind of material you couldn’t see on the box. Masumura certainly ran with that idea and it’s the kind of film which would have made Mary Whitehouse’s head explode like she was in Scanners. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I’ll leave up to you.
It’s a surreal and claustrophobic film, confined to one primary set in the guise of Michio’s studio. Apparently, this was due to budgetary reasons, with Masumura having much grander ideas before Daiei put the kibosh on things, but it works for the film’s advantage. Aki’s captivity is that much more suffocating because it is primarily in one location.
And what a location. Shigeo Mano’s art direction is amazing, with Michio’s studio walls covered with reliefs of parts of the female body; eyes, ears, noses, arms, legs, and of course, breasts. If that isn’t enough, two gigantic sculptures of the female form sit in the middle of the studio that are often clambered on by Michio and Aki, with the repeated surreal sight of the pair hiking between massive breasts like great hills to conquer.
Together with Mano’s production design, Setsuo Kobayashi’s cinematography really drives home the claustrophobia as well as the insanity of Michio’s studio. Kobayashi uses a sharp contrast with a lot of shadows against bright lights, making the bizarre sculptures stand out even more so they jump at you from the darkness. Just looking at Aki against a backdrop of glaring eyes, I’d be shocked if Dario Argento had never seen this picture.
What’s interesting is the minimalistic feel of the piece, where it feels almost like a play, especially with only having three characters. This helps to have a certain amount of grounding for the first half, where Aki keeps trying to escape while pledging her love and loyalty to Michio’s new genre of art through the tactile sense of touch. His mother, however, is much more aware, and there begins an interesting subplot where Aki tries to posit her as an overbearing mother who doesn’t want her son to be a man and thus drives a firm wedge between her and Michio.
What follows is both ridiculous and brilliant and frankly daring, especially considering what we believe to be edgy horror today. Masumura is playing with themes of consent, sensuality, fetishism, and the aesthetic. What role art plays and whether it is “art” or just something that uses that definition to justify its existence.
Eiji Funakoshi is excellent as Michio, while Mako Midori does great work as Aki in a role that some might have played more obviously. Hikaru Hayashi’s score is genuinely eerie, and together with the work of Mano and Kobayashi creates an emotionally heightened world for Aki to inhabit. I wish I could be more forthcoming about the film, but that would spoil all the heavenly glory this film contains.
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Arrow has brought Blind Beast to Blu-ray in a fine transfer in the scope ratio (2.35:1), with a Japanese audio track in mono along with English subtitles. The audio is excellent, wonderfully clear and claustrophobic, with the mix allowing Hayashi’s score ample aural space. On the bonus features side of things, it’s not packed, but what is there is specific and informative, with an introduction by Japanese film expert Tony Rayns and an audio commentary by Asian film writer Earl Jackson. There is also a video essay by Seth Jacobowitz that feels a little thin on the ground, and the theatrical trailer, which is always welcome. The initial pressing also features a booklet essay by Virginie Sélavy, but this was not provided for review.
Blind Beast is a weird movie that happily dives into some pretty deep and taboo subjects without fear, and its final outcome is both unpredictable and poignant. Arrow’s edition is excellent on the audio and video front, and this is definitely a film to recommend for those who like their horror on the transgressive side. Sorry, mum.
Blind Beast is out on Blu-ray on 23rd August from Arrow Video.