Monday, 21 July 2008

Blind Beast (1969, Japan, Yasuzo Masumura)

Diverting exploitation fare from the versatile Japanese director Masumura (who made the Frank Tashlin-esque 'Giants and Toys' and the lesbian melodrama 'Manji' amongst other films), which must have seemed pretty out there to late 60s Japanese audiences, though it fits into quite suitably amongst the new wave of films during that period. Coming over as a precursor in many ways to Nagisa Oshima's 'In The Realm of the Senses', which followed a few years later, 'Blind Beast' focuses on an equally sordid affair based upon seemingly S&M ideals.

Aki (Mako Midori), a spunky young model, poses for some fairly kinky "artistic" photographs which are shown in an exhibition alongside a life sized clay model of her body. When she visits this exhibition, she sees a young blind man caressing this model in a way that doesn't seem natural. Of course this concerns her as the man's hands running up and down the clay model are practically felt by her, as if it is her body that is being fondled. The same man, Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), turns up later as her masseur, kidnapping her with the help of his mother. Thus begins a perverse episode as Michio first forces Aki to act as his model for his new artistic endeavour, though their growing closeness causes a rift between Michio and his domineering mother.

Although the narrative and drive of 'Blind Beast' barely stays together, Masumura's handling of this slight material is enough to make it more than watchable. The film's real success is in its set design. Michio's studio is a terrific recreation of his sensory capacity; with walls adorned with body parts and sensory functions - eyes, noses, breasts, arms (like those in Cocteau's 'La Belle et Le Bete' or Polanski's 'Replusion', though motionless). It's so elaborately designed, you can't help but watch with wide eyed wonder. There's amusement to be gained from Aki and Michio's initial cat and mouse games through large nude models. Michio explains his motivations for his studio's design and kidnapping of Aki - that he has senses other than sight, that touch is the only sense that means anything to him.

The kidnapping also reveals Michio and Aki's nascent interest in power games and sexual quirks - his sadism, her masochism ("I only like it when it hurts"). Michio's sexuality had been repressed before, with a creepy Oedipal complex apparent, but he's now liberated by not only his mother's death, but Aki's acquiescence towards his sexual desires. When she loses her sight from the near darkness in which she resides, they share the ecstasy of caresses, of achieving sexual gratification through touch only. As the violence inflicted upon each other increases to achieve enjoyment or "exquisite pain", there's not much territory to explore, and explore they do, with the final sexual ecstasy achieved through cutting of limbs, symbolically shown through the falling of a clay statue.

In many ways, 'Blind Beast' is rather ridiculous; a kinky little film that's actually quite chaste in what you see, but the exploration of more intense sexual adventures was rather groundbreaking and laid the path for the more notorious 'In The Realm of the Senses' as mentioned above. I guess if anything, the S&M infused affair is related to the sensory (lack of) capacities of Michio and Aki, that by lacking certain senses, they have something to make up for, which manifests itself in the methods they use. Not that it should be taken too seriously though, and it might easily be forgettable if not for the fact that Masumura knows what he's doing and the use of an elaborately designed set to highlight Michio and Aki's sensory and sexual issues. 3.5/5

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