Blind Beast, 1969.
Directed by Yasuzô Masumura.
Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Mako Midori and Noriko Sengoku.
A model is kidnapped by a blind sculptor and embarks on an intense masochistic relationship as they seek to stimulate each other’s senses.
You know what it’s like when you fancy a massage and book a masseur to come to your house, only to discover that they are blind and intending to feel their way around your body in order to sculpt a masterpiece? No? Well, that is what happens to Aki (Mako Midori) after she witnesses blind sculptor Michio (Eiji Funakoshi) feeling his way around a sculpture of her body in a gallery.
Don’t ask how but he manages to swap places with her regular masseur and turns up on her doorstep, convinces her that a blind massage is the best kind and before she can say “Is that body oil you’re rubbing into that cloth?” she wakes up in Michio’s dark warehouse workshop, surrounded by giant sculpted body parts and in competition with Michio’s domineering mother (Noriko Sengoku) for Michio’s attention, culminating in murder, rape, vampirism, bondage and lots of other distasteful behaviour.
Blind Beast is a very dark movie, both tonally and literally, taking place mostly in Michio’s workshop and delving deep into its characters’ psyche – both collective and individual – with themes of sexual deviance, incest, Stockholm syndrome and implied Jocasta complex, stripping away all semblance of our familiar reality and reducing Aki’s emotions and senses down to their bare minimum until she can do no more but succumb to Michio’s will and take on his fetishes as her own until the inevitably grim climax.
Directed with a bare-bones approach that has maximum effect, Blind Beast is either an art house movie with a grindhouse plot or a grindhouse movie with art house stylings, depending on your approach to it, but either way it feels very much like a transgressive movie that was thankfully made when it was and not a couple of decades later when its heart and soul would no doubt have been replaced by gruesome effects and graphic sex, neither of which are shown here and don’t really have to be as it is the characters and their obsessive, and ultimately doomed, relationship that drives the film along. Plus, where else could you see two people acting out such a bizarre story whilst sat atop a giant erect nipple in a room full of model breasts covering the walls?
Featuring an audio commentary by Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson, a newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns and a brand new visual essay by Japanese literature and visual studies scholar Seth Jacobowitz, Blind Beast is a curious movie and probably not one that will appeal to newcomers to Japanese cinema thanks to its gloomy tone, near-colourless palette and quite brutal storytelling but the fantastic set designs are very much worth seeing and it is a film that will get under your skin for various reasons, although not necessarily for the right ones.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★