The film, which is divided into chapters, follows a man (Kimihiko Hasegawa) only identified twice, once as Harmonica (because he plays one) and the other time as The Master of Murder (because he gruesomely killed his wife). He works at a slaughterhouse and observes his eccentric and downright crazy co-workers and shanty town neighbors as they all spiral into a kind of tangible, metaphorical hell. The working class characters become not only mentally unhinged but physically transformed by their negative emotional baggage. Basically, you've got to go through hell in order to get to a state of grace.
It is a hard film to describe. Perhaps the following passage from my notes will clue you into the bizarre string of scenes that hold the film together- "Chapter Six: Humanhog. The mother and daughter neighbor combo that survived murder at the hands of their hubby/father engage in a heated argument. The daughter blames the mother for the abusive, molesting, crazy father. As they scrap, the girl tears the mother's face off. The skin hangs, dangling from her chin. Ryo, the slaughterhouse workers wife, who now sports a constantly bleeding head wound, enters the scene and begins to eat the mothers face skin... Why???"
Yeah, so if that scene doesn't intrigue you, best you move on to a different review because its just that sort of thing that the film is loaded with.
The film begins with Harmonica looking rather destitute, ragged, homeless, rolling around in the woods while hearing voices that speak of how animals lack a soul and what separates them from humans is the ability to recite the Amida Buddha and pray for rebirth. It is a narration that shows up often in the film. One of the film's finale sequences further suggests a lean towards the spiritually redemptive, as a matter of fact, the scene could almost belong on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. But despite these efforts, the film largely leans towards the aberrant, the bleak, and is almost willfully lacking in any kind of pointed plot beyond being a nightmarish, hallucinatory assemblage of scenes. Think of it as a more abstract and less effective version of the classic Jigoku.
While I don't think ID the most effective surrealist feature, Kei Fujiwara at least wins points for the memorably monestrous and whacked out. There are some comedic strains too, often the case with off kilter, dark film making (think Takashi Miike), that I don't think work that well. Like, you have the crusty chief butcher's young son, who he force feeds pork in order to make up for his lacking mature hormones. The child is played by an adult actor and its a cute absurdist bit. On the other end, yet another slaughterhouse worker has a son that is an adult man-child who cross dresses. Here we have a bit that feels forced and unnecessary.
Despite my misgivings, I enjoyed ID. One will find much that feeds a cult, surreal film fans appetite, from nightmare/flashbacks sequences of blood-soaked murder and animated intestines that look very Svankmajeresque, symbolic substitutes for the male phallus like roses and spring coils, as well as the finale where Harmonica and a abbatoir workers wife morph into a big, mossy, baseball bat wielding, ID monster.
The DVD: Media Blasters.
Picture: Fullscreen. The film looks like it could be a relic from two decades before. Its so haggard, I'm not even that sure what the film was shot on, rough 35mm, or maybe 16mm, a disposable camera? Regardless, it is stock that has been battered and abused. From the framing and overall look, one imagines this was all intentional, from the aspect ratio to the washed out, grainy, diffused image. Still, it also appears that this film was in need of some care and attention that the transfer just couldn't provide.
Sound: A sole Japanese 2.0 track with optional English subtitles. Again, not much to write home about, but it is all perfectly clear and, while limited and not high end, and one assumes well-presented.
Conclusion: While it may not be the most lucid work of surrealism- you say that's not even a fair thing to say when it comes to the genre- ID certainly delivers the utterly bizarre and extremely memorable. As a fan of the exploitative extreme and the artfully symbolic, I was entertained throughout. The DVD is slight and the film is for a pretty marginal fanbase, so this one is best reserved as a rental first and purchase later if you like it.