HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN (Kyôfu Kikei Ningen)
1969/Director: Teruo Ishii/Writers: Teruo Ishii, Masahiro Kakefuda
Cast: Teruo Yoshida, Yukie Kagawa, Teruko Yumi, Mitsuko Aoi
I have been delving back into Japanese cinema of the 60’s and 70’s and focusing on the Pinky Violence variety as well as the b/w noir style films by people like Seijun Suzuki. I have a few films here by director Teru Iishi but had yet to get around to watching one all the way through. I mean I tend to skim over these things for quality assurance purposes before burning them a disk then deleting the files from my hard-drive. I think I have Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf, Female Yakuza Tale, Blind Woman’s curse and the focus of this review The Horrors of Malformed Men. I will have to confess something here. I often have no clue as to the history of many of these before I download or that the above films were even all by the same director until I began doing some research for this review. I may download a film simply because I like the title or the poster art and screen captures. I will skim over the review to get some idea of when it was made and what other work the director was involved with then decide whether to use up my bandwidth and hard-drive space with the download. Usually any Japanese film made from the late 50’t to mid 70’s has a better than 50/50 chance of getting downloaded in the first place. So when I saw the review snippets about the Horrors of Malformed Men and how it was banned in its own country for some forty years and never released on VHS I was thoroughly enticed. My first thought was how freaky could the film be in order to be banned in Japan of all places. Well the lure of a film made in 1969 Japan being banned for long is not something I can resist but there is actually a slight catch to the banned aspect of this film.
The film was indeed banned for some four decades but the ban was self-imposed by Toei Studios themselves and the controversy, if there ever was one, was centered around the use of the term ‘deformed’ or ‘malformed’ in the title and that the film displayed deformed people at a time the issue was sensitive in Japan. This sensitivity seemed to have something to do with the issue of radiation deformities following the destruction of the cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII. Now it seems the film’s notoriety of being banned for so long has led to the idea that what is contained in the movies is some of the most shocking sights one has ever seen in a Japanese film. And while there are some pretty freaky scenes in the movie they, of course, pale in comparison to the over the top shock cinema coming out of Japan these days. But for the time the material is still a bit outlandish and deals with pretty taboo subject matter like incest. Of course some of the scenes may actually be a bit too much for some viewers even though it was filmed in 1969 and I am saying it is not that bad while I have seen films that have literally warped my brain beyond repair. Sometimes more than once even.
The story is taken from some short stories by mystery writer Edogawa Rampo (a pen name derived from the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allen Poe) and from his 1932 novel The Strange Tale of panorama Island. The film is a mystery story actually and tries at times hard to be a whodunit. Actually the film suffers from this and the ending really messed up an otherwise great piece of artsy Japanese cinema when a minor character in the film shows up and reveals he is in fact an undercover police detective. He then unravels the series of events and clues that led him to his final conclusions in a typical detective film fashion. All the main characters gathered together in the parlor (okay, in this case they are all in a cave full of flesh eating crabs but it is sort of the same thing) and the brilliant detective unfurls his narrative much to the shock and awe of all present. The only problem is you are thinking to yourself “who the hell is this guy!”. Other than that flaw and the other corny aspect of the ending I will discuss later this is in fact a pretty good film. It is well shot and the colors are lush and vibrant in each scene. The acting is good and the score is very effective. What is the big mystery then that unravels in the cave at the film’s end?