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DVD SAVANT

The Blind Beast
Moju


The Blind Beast
Fantoma
1969 / Color / 2:35 (Daieiscope) anamorphic 16:9 / 86m. / Moju
Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Mako Midori, Noriko Sengoku
Cinematography Setsuo Kobayashi
Art Direction Shigeo Muno
Original Music Hikaru Hayashi
Writing creditsYoshio Shirasaka from a story by Edogawa Rampo
Produced by Masaichi Nagata, Kazumasu Nakano
Directed by Yasuzo Masumura

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Blind Beast, often called Moju, is one of those bizarre titles that Savant first encountered in Phil Hardy's Encyclopedia of Horror Movies and could hardly believe existed. It's but one of an entire genre of Japanese movies about bondage and sado-masochism that began in the 1960s. Judging by the text description, I was expecting an horrific bloodbath, as in the Baby Cart samurai movies, but on an intimate level of twisted cruelty.

As it turns out, this unique horror is a big surprise in every respect, a serious work of art about sex pushed way beyond human barriers. An easy film to dismiss or reject out of hand, I'd have to call The Blind Beast honest and legitimate, on a subject that usually surfaces only as exploitative trash.

Synopsis:

Blind sculptor Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), helped by his doting Mother (Noriko Sengoku), creates a huge studio-prison packed with gigantic sculptures of female torsos and outsized anatomical features. He kidnaps Aki (Mako Midori), a model whose body he admires, and forces her to submit to his plan to sculpt a masterpiece from her, by feel alone. Aki tries deception and seduction in attempts to escape, but her efforts take an unexpected turn. She reacts positively to his repeated rapes and buys into the psychological side of his trangressive art, in which touch and tactile sensation are all. Herself going blind in the dimly lit studio, Aki eagerly joins Michio in a descent into a sado-masochistic obsession that spirals out of control toward pain, mutilation, and death.

Great Christmas title, huh? Well, the timing may not be perfect, but The Blind Beast is too special to ignore. With its minimal cast, and mostly confined to one elaborate, bizarre set, director Masumura manages to communicate ideas about extreme erotic obsession without being revolting. I have to admit experiencing shivers of dread, expecting something abominable to occur at any moment. The Blind Beast is conceptually extreme, graphically restrained, and very interesting.

That's not to recommend this erotic ordeal for any but adults who know what they're getting into ... yet I can affirm that this is not quasi-porn chic, or the faux-artsy, pandering kind of junk which seems to cross all national boundaries nowadays. Masumura's aim is direct and his method unfussy. The visuals are strikingly sensual, but not over-aestheticized.

The Blind Beast uses the framework of the horror genre to launch into its own private world. As discussed in the very helpful program notes by Patrick Macias, the plot is similar to that of Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face, Jésus Franco's Gritos en la Noche, William Wyler's The Collector and Pedro Almodóvar's ¡Átame! Aki's kidnapping and the early stages of her imprisonment set the stage. With the rest of the world quickly blotted out, Masumura creeps into his main themes, and never comes back.

Into the Realm of Senses

The subject matter is of course pretty extreme on the conceptual scale, yet not as selfconsciously 'sick' as something like last year's The Cell. The Blind Beast is going to seem tame to advanced sexual adventurers, and totally unacceptable to anyone with conventional limits on their taste. Both reactions are reasonable depending on the viewer.


Even with its 'adventuresome' journey into abstract sexual liberties, The Blind Beast is basically a conservative fantasy. Aki starts as a potentially interested fetish partner, reacting with a reflexive erotic charge to the mere sight of Michio caressing a sculpture. Once she becomes a prisoner, she tries to trick him in various ways, and even while seducing him retains a basic rejection of what's going on ... she just wants to survive and get out. In this first stage of her captivity, Aki in costume and gesture resembles the disoriented Natasha Von Braun of Alphaville. She's costumed similarly, and flails her arms about as she avoids the blind Michio, as if patterned after the Jean-Luc Godard film.

It's only when Michio rapes her repeatedly that Aki changes her mind, or, more directly, her body changes her mind for her. This conforms to the notion that women fundamentally wish to be dominated by men and derive the greatest satisfaction from that. ¡Átame! certainly subscribes to the same ethos; if you believe that a 'healthy' relationship between two people can be anything that's mutually consentual, even if the consent comes after kidnapping and rape, then The Blind Beast is indeed a love story. And then you have to believe that 'love' can exist solely on a tactile plane ... In their twisted fashion, Aki and Michio are tender, caring, and faithful unto death.

One true note that transcends the specific obsession of the film, is the idea that the senses develop resistance when overstimulated. As Aki and Michio blot out all activities except the pursuit of pleasure, they become trapped in a spiraling need for more, stronger sensations. When the focus of an obsession becomes all-consuming, the possibility of dying for its pleasure is by no means an unheard-of thing. We all remember the intensity of the pain of 'love' as a teenager. And there's certainly the germ of the Death Wish built into sex, that seems a fundamental part of the human character. In its own delirious way, The Blind Beast makes one think about all these ideas, and more.  2


This DVD of The Blind Beast is beautifully produced, the best Fantoma disc Savant has yet seen. I'm told that a faded 35mm print was shown at the Cinematheque last year, but this 16:9 enhanced DaieiScope image is in excellent shape and has very good color. The soundtrack is strong, and there are good removable subtitles.  1(spoiler) Because an IMDB search for facts about Masumura's weirdly-titled films comes up practically empty, the text features on the disc are especially useful; the astute biographical notes include a Masumura quote that requires a careful read to fully grasp. The still gallery is lean but has some interesting diagrams and photos of the film's unique set under construction. The trailer looks as pristine as the feature, and includes shots of Michio whipping Aki that Savant doesn't remember from the film proper. The vaguely misrepresentative cover shows Michio wearing sunglasses, and threatening Aki with a weapon that looks more like a Argentoian straight razor, than the film's kitchen cleaver.

This column often writes about fantastic films, and some are horror pictures with extreme content. How weird is weird, and what's acceptable as entertainment is always a personal decision. Lon Chaney's 1927 The Unknown shows on TCM all the time, and on the thematic level is as morbid as anything here; it's just that the sex level of modern horror confuses the issues with considerations of pornography and exploitation. On graphic terms, The Blind Beast is not pornography. Nudity is restrained and there is almost no blood involved in the stylized finish. The morbid fantasies and wanton self-destruction here are much more powerful than mere exploitation. Of all the 'forbidden' titles Savant has felt himself hesitant to watch, The Blind Beast is the most satisfying so far. It's an honest, challenging art movie.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Blind Beast rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer, text biography and filmography, stills gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 21, 2001


Footnote:

1. Much of the movie is told in past-tense narration by Aki. We're rather left hanging when she keeps narrating even when we're looking into her dead eyes. Is this Aki's soul telling the tale of her descent into morbid ecstasy?
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2. Michio's tactile obsessions, and his 'impossible' art are examined fairly closely in the film's dialogues. The blind sculptor is fixated on the huge anatomical features, and giant, soft female 'bodies' that fill his studio; and Aki confronts him directly with the notion that he's entirely infantile, seeking some kind of ultimate Mommy. Yoshio Shirasaka's script doesn't use concepts like these to support the story ... the concepts are the story. Laboring in secret, Michio creates his works for himself alone, which raises the question of whether he is an artist, or an onanistic follower of 'blind' instincts. His surreal journey begins without a real need for another person, merely someone to accede to his self-oriented desires. When he and Aki seem to become a 'couple', functioning as a caring unit, is when the relational questions come up. Are they a romantic couple of heightened consciousness, bravely choosing to exist outside the plane of normal human behavior, and choosing a death true to their love? Or are they merely individually addicted to this strange passion that chooses death over life - are they just facilitating each other's masochistic suicide? This kind of thinking gets pretty thick.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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