06 July 2011

HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN/1969/TERUO ISHII

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?

Well I must remind you that much of the story is a little hard to follow at times and one is strung along a times and if do not enjoy this sort of thing it may be tough to keep your attention focused. I had a hard time but often settled for the brilliant and haunting images and figured the film would maybe make sense at the end. Well, it made less sense by the end but the movies opens up with a man named Hitomi a patient in a strange asylum where women danced around drugged and naked and bald men stare at him from a distance and plot his murder. Hitomi has no idea why he in the institution and all he has are a couple jumbled memories in his head: a recurring scene on a beach with a wild haired man with strange fingers and a lullaby melody. Hitomi is forced into a situation where he kills the creepy bald guy in self defense and somehow manages to escape from the asylum and is soon seeking information on his own past and who he really is. He meets a young girl who performs at a circus where Hitomi seems to have picked up and odd job. She is able to identify the lullaby but before she can provide him with more information a knife is thrown in her back. You know, right as she about to utter the first syllable of the secret he needs to hear. And then to make matters worse Hitmoi decideds to pull the knife out and then everyone happens upon the scene and believes he murdered the girl. Man, I hate when that happens.

While traveling incognito (wearing an eye patch) Hitomi happens to notice a newspaper headline about the passing away of the head of the powerful Komoda family. He is startled to see the picture of the man who is his dead ringer. His curiosity is piqued and he heads to the coastal area where the family’s business empire is situated. Further coincidences fall into play when a birth mark on his foot, he discovers from an old masseuse, is identical to one on the now dead Genzaburou’s foot. The birthmark is in the shape of a swastikia but the image does not have the same evil connotations in the Orient as it does in post the post Nazi Germany west. The story is situated time wise before the war during the 1920’s I believe. Well, with all these events piling up and the fact that the family house is within walking distance of Hitomi now he does the most logical thing a person in his situation can do; he sneaks in the cemetery where Genzaboru is buried and takes his body from the grave and hurls it into the sea with a suicide note and then returns to the grave and assumes the identity of the head of the Komoda family. It is a little shaky a first but soon everyone accepts the fact that a mistake was made and Genzaboru was mistakenly buried for dead. There are various levels of intrigue in the Komoda household as Kitomi gets closer and closer to the secrets of his true identity. Poisonings and strange deformed men groping bathing servant girls top the list. Soon Kitomi begins to realize that the answer to his mysteries must lie on the island where Genzaboru’s father Jogoro lives in self-imposed exile conducting unknown experiments. The experiments are basically the delusions of a madman who is transforming normal people into malformed mutants. Seems he has long been bitter because of his own congenitally deformed hands and now wants to make a sort of master race of deformed men who will, I gather, rule the world someday. Not only will they rule the world but they will have sex with all the normal beautiful girls out there. A demented but inspiring dream I must admit.

It is not far fetched to guess that Hitmoi is actually Genzaboru’s twim brother who was sent away as a young lad by Jogoro to study medicine so that later in life he could return home and help his dad create mutants. Hitmoi is having none of it. He is man of strong moral fiber. Of course he does not mind having an incestuous relationship with his sister who was only recently a male/female Siamese twin experiment but we all have our shortcomings don’t we. All these years Jogoro’s wife has been chained up in a damp cave eating crabs. Seems she had some hanky panky with a man with normal hands and this really sent Jogoro further over the edge of sanity he had already slipped off. This is told in monochromatic flashback sequences. The films spirals out of control at the end when, as I mentioned earlier, a Charlie Chan type scene occurs where an uncover cop unravels all the truth as everyone stands around listening with mouths agape. I felt this was totally unnecessary. Further at the end we are treated to a type of theme I often see in Asian films. The evil Jorgoro suddenly breaks down in tears and confesses his love for his wife who he kept chained in a cave for a couple decades and forced into acts of cannibalism on her dead lover. She starts wailing and crying and then he is wailing and crying and the scene drags on way too long. I have seen this sort of ending too many times in Japanese films and Asian films in general. The bond of blood or love is deeper than the viscous and sadistic acts that severed the pair and it the end they cry and weep and say “I have always cared for you and loved you, forgive me for keeping you chained in dark isolation in a cave with live crabs as your only source of sustenance for twenty something years. I did it because I loved you”. With some response like “Sure, I understand. I always loved you too and forgive you”. Then there is some double suicide of Hitomi and his sister because society could never accept their deep, but forbidden, love. Hell, I think he only knew the girl for a week or so and half of that time she was co-joined mutant. Well, those little flaws only add to the film’s strangely grotesque appeal. The photography is wonderful and it is an early example of Japan extreme cinema by a director who would serve as an inspiration for the much more extreme and shocking Japanese cinema that was to unleashed over the coming decades. The themes are dark and moody and the movie ends on a down note but the over all ride is enjoyable. Well, for someone like me it was anyone.
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