So here we are, my final installment in this series that has been pretty close to my heart. Not because I am strictly a gorehound, but because as a writer, I have been doing my best to further my horizons with this piece and become more knowledgeable for those who might read this piece. I am trying to encompass as much of the genre into these articles as I can, but if I know one thing, it is that Japan’s film industry is prolific and keeping up with every single release from an outsiders perspective is nearly impossible. Films like those of Takashi Miike have been seeing a lot of big screen distribution, but the V-Cinema is just as sordid and vast as it has ever been. For those not up with the lingo, V-Cinema in Japan is basically equal to our Straight-to-Video releases, except instead of Dolph Lundgren and Van Damme cluttering their STV market they get Sho Aikawa and Ren Osugi. Personally I think they’re getting the better end of the stick, but that’s just me. Although the big names do tend to cover the majority of the V-cinema market, in the past few years there has been an ever-growing and even shadier underbelly of ultra violent releases from independent filmmakers. The Japanese seem to constantly seek where the “line” is drawn, simply for the sake of crossing it – and with videos in the past like the Guinea Pig series it’s safe to say they have done their part in releasing some of the most sordid “entertainment” on the market – but now it seems a new breed is evolving from the works a decade and a half ago. Keeping the intensity and line-crossing iconoclast attitude, the Japanese underground is burgeoning with some of the most bizarre and disturbing films on any continent right now.
Daisuke Yamanouchi is probably the most respectable filmmaker to step into the forefront in the past decade. Bursting onto the scene in 1999 with his underground cult classic “Red Room” – which took me nearly four years to check out since first hearing about it. A friend I found through my website filled me in on the stories revolving around Red Room those few years back, as he had discovered it through trading some VHS tapes but I was never able to grab it up until the DVD release came from Unearthed. This was definitely the better way to go, as I was able to discover that the film is more than just a shock-worthy exploitation film. Granted, it is that, but it’s also a lot more. Packing a very tight and meaningful script to go with the tough, course horrors that are unleashed on the audience – Red Room has more in common to films like Cannibal Holocaust or Salo; well built and important films that are also some of the most disturbing of all time. Yamanouchi, like many of the more sordid V-Cinema directors, has went in between horror and pornography. Filling his horror films with blunt sexuality, but much like pornography tends to be, usually without the sensuality. Kissing scenes are often dubbed over with smacking noises that in my opinion kill anything remotely arousing about whatever contents may be on-screen. I’m not sure if this is an intentional choice or if it’s simply a cultural difference. Regardless, Yamanouchi throws this one extra curve ball and as a foreign viewer it just adds to the bizarre experience that his films most assuredly are. Aside from the violence and sexual content, it is hard to gauge how competent Yamouchi is as a filmmaker since currently the only film of his I know of available with subtitles is Red Room. Everything else I have found have all but in it’s native language but without any subs. So, however interesting it may be to sit back and watch an hour long film full of blood, lesbians and gore – I find myself sitting on my copy of Kyoko Vs. Yuki, and am desperately seeking out Muzan-E which might possibly be the only film of his I could imagine working without knowing any of the dialogue. The film centers around a reporter investigating underground sex films and the sadists behind them, who are also into making snuff – which ultimately leads to our heroine being “snuffed” out. Muzan-e has received a certainly cult classic status in some circles, and is considered by many to be one of the most disturbing films of all time.
Following alongside Muzan-e is Psycho: The Snuff Reels; another faux snuff film that follows a simple structure and delivers on the ultra violence and obliteration of decency. Following a couple of looneys who are auditioning women for a porn film, taking place in the same environment as Muzan-e – kind of makes you wonder what these part-time pornography directors feel about their own environment. Somewhere after the halfway mark though, the film takes a jagged course as one of the men smash a poor young lady over the head with a bat, knocking her out. For the rest of the film she is raped, and at the same time dismembered and mutilated. Mixing in hardcore pornography and hardcore gore and violence, The Snuff Reels is the perfect definition for how brutal the Japanese underground can get. Films like Muzan-e and The Snuff Reels owe a lot of their existence to Flowers of Flesh and Blood, which has taken on sort of a grandfather type of role within the community while still shocking audiences. Inspiring new filmmakers who are also seeking to push the limits of good taste or decency. Following similarly in this path within Japan is another small series called “Harikari”, which as you might expect deals in suicide. That’s just it. Suicide and death. It is a series built upon mostly women committing suicide in the ancient tradition of disemboweling themselves with a sharp blade. Often wearing burial clothes, and gore effects varying from very good to very, very bad. So, if murder and homicide aren’t your thing, the Japanese underground also offers you suicide snuff! What a diverse scene!
So, I feel I am at the end of my series, even though I could see myself going another three or so articles covering the different aspects of current Japanese cinema – but I figure it’s best to leave while I’m still on top. At some point I may resurrect the Japanese Grue name to form a simple review based column later on, but for now, I hope that these articles stand for something for some people. Hopefully enough of the films discussed here are obscure enough for those who are into anything horror can go out of their way to find a few films that hopefully they haven’t even heard of – and for those who have heard of them, hopefully there’s enough information here to further their interest in any of these films. For those looking to read the earlier parts, you can read the other series entries here:
Thanks for reading everyone, and don’t forget, if it ain’t grue it ain’t good…or something along those lines.