Blu-ray Release: August 24, 2021
Audio: Japanese LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 84:06
Director: Yasuzo Masumura
An artist’s model, Aki (Mako Midori), is abducted, and awakens in a dark warehouse studio whose walls are decorated with outsized women’s body parts and dominated by two recumbent giant statues of male and female nudes. Her kidnapper introduces himself as Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), a blind sculptor whom she had witnessed previously at an exhibition in which she featured intently caressing a statue of her naked torso. Michio announces his intention of using her to sculpt the perfect female form. At first defiant, she eventually succumbs to his intense fixation on her body and finds herself drawn into his sightless world, in which touch is everything. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
A decade after establishing himself as a master of satire with Giants and Toys (Kyojin to gangu, 1958), director Yasuzô Masumura delivered his most transgressive and disturbing film, Blind Beast (Japanese: Môjû, 1969). This one-of-a-kind combination of horror, romance, arthouse, and jet black comedy was based on the work of author Edogawa Rampo (real name Tarō Hirai), whose detective mysteries and horror stories were often compared to the work of Edgar Allan Poe (hence the phonetically similar pseudonym). Rampo’s stories grew in popularity after WWII and became the basis of a number of various genre films, beginning with serialized entries from his Private Detective Kogorô Akechi (Rampo’s Sherlock Holmes-inspired alter ego) and Shonen tanteidan (Boy Detectives) series.* Rampo adaptations ‘matured’ into the realms of outrageous horror at the end of the ‘60s, fronted by the strange alchemy of Teruo Ishii’s Horrors of Malformed Men (Japanese: Edogawa Rampo Zenshū: Kyoufu Kikei Ningen), Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard (Japanese: Kuro tokage, 1968), and Blind Beast. These films inspired renewed interest in the author’s work and, in turn, more adaptations, culminating in dozens of Rampo-themed releases throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s.
Blind Beast was based on a Rampo story first serialized in the Asahi national newspaper as Moju between 1931 and 1932,** and skirts the line between pure art film and the then height of Japanese exploitation cinema: the Pinku eiga, or “pink film.” As an important figure during the earliest days of Pinku, Masumura helped inspire the more extreme Toei Pinky Violence and Nikkatsu Roman Porno movies with his own brand of salacious romance, including groundbreaking lesbian thriller Manji (1964), gruesome war nurse drama Red Angel (Japanese: Akai tenshi, 1966), and geisha revenge story Irezumi (1966). Even with minimum on-screen violence (especially compared to Red Angel’s depiction of battlefield surgery), Blind Beast’s hallucinogenic editing/storytelling and palpable sense of tragedy makes for a more haunting experience than blood & guts spectacles, like Ishii’s Shogun's Joy of Torture (Japanese: Tokugawa onna keibatsu-shi, 1968), released the year before. What begins as a somewhat typical story of a psychotic stalker/kidnapper with mommy issues (Michio has all the hallmarks of a Norman Bates type) turns into a uniquely honest portrayal of toxic, codependent romance, before spiralling quickly into mutilation, murder, and suicide. Masumura’s film revels not in physical pain – in the world of Blind Beast, agony is an expression of pleasure and love – but the emotional turmoil that drives these people down a continuously devastating path.
Artistically, Blind Beast perfectly embodies the concept of Ero-guro – a Japanese artistic/literary subgenre that combines aspects of the erotic (ero) and the grotesque (guro) that Rampo pioneered. Masumura magnifies the sado-masochism inherent in these types of films; again, without a considerable amount of on-screen sex or violence. Rampo’s original concept, that of a blind sculptor needing to lustfully grope a woman in order to recreate her visage in clay, is already a patently perfect combination of sensual and disturbing, but Masumura brings the sculptor’s fractured psyche to surrealistic life with giant white sculptures of eyes, mouths, noses, legs, breasts, and entire headless bodies, devised by Warning from Space (1956) production designer Shigeo Mano. Cobbled together, they created one of the most breathtaking sets in low-budget moviedom. And this all occurs within the first act of the film. I’m barely scratching the surface of Blind Beast’s psycho-sexual themes and gender politics with this review. It’s best to experience it with one’s own eyes.
* Pete Tombs Mondo Macabro: Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World (St. Martin's, 1997)
** Midnight Eye review, by Jasper Sharp
The only official stateside DVD was released by Fantoma, the small company behind the original Giants and Toys DVD. For this Blu-ray debut, Arrow was handed a complete HD scan from Kadokawa Studios, which they cleaned-up and regraded at R3Store Studios in London. The resulting 2.35:1, 1080p transfer more or less matches expectations of their other Daisei and Nikkatsu releases – very good, better than any other version on the market, but not without minor shortcomings. In this case, the shortcomings are a slight fuzziness that softens edges and can make film grain appear chunky via posterization. That said, the softness is inherent in Setsuo Kobayashi’s evocative photography, which buries large portions of the frame in moody darkness. The dark bits are clean (even when black levels are inconsistent) and the limited palette – warm skin tones that grow colder as the film goes on, slightly blue-tinged backgrounds and sets, and dark green clothing – remains consistent throughout without any notable bleeding.
Blind Beast is presented in its original Japanese mono sound in uncompressed 1.0 LPCM audio. As in the case of Arrow’s other recent Daiei Blu-rays, the material is in good, but not perfect condition, leading to some scratchy moments when characters are shouting or the nominal effects work gets loud. There aren’t any signs of major damage, though, such as crackles or pops. Hikaru Hayashi’s score mixes eerily upbeat organ/harpsichord tunes and droning classical pieces (some sound a lot like Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver score) with abstract soundscapes (mostly controlled feedback) that fill the silences and imply the characters’ mental/emotional states. It doesn’t get a whole lot of play, but, when it does, it has some surprising aural depth.
Commentary with Scholar Earl Jackson – The author of Strategies of Deviance: Studies in Gay Male Representaon (Indiana University Press, 1995) and numerous essays on Japanese and Korean cinemas offers up a deep dive into the (possible) meanings behind Blind Beast’s themes and images, shares other (often contemporary) critical views of its text and interviews with cast & crew, and discusses other Masumura work, comparing it to this and other films. It’s such a comprehensive track and not entirely screen-specific, so I imagine it could work separate from the movie itself.
2021 introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns (18:33, HD) – The critic and author breaks down Masumura’s pre-film life, work as a director, ongoing themes and styles, and the making of Blind Beast.
Blind Beast: Masumura the Supersensualist (10:51, HD) – A visual essay by Japanese literature and visual studies scholar Seth Jacobowitz on Pinku, Rampo, and supersentualism in fiction, before exploring some of the film’s scenes at greater length.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed
by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.