Original Title: Gurotesuku
Directed by. Kôji Shiraishi
Distributed by: Njuta Films.
Don’t you just love that Japanese horror film makers have abandoned the stylish, slow building and highly effective J-Horror traits and made a return to their good old extensive gore fests that where in demand late eighties, early nineties. There’s a whole new force of Japanese genre film makers who obviously have been inspired by these movies and are making sure that the slow moving dead girls down the well stay put. It’s time for the blood and guts to make a triumphant comeback.
Early 2009, the net started buzzing about this new flick out of Japan that had opened on screens at Theatre N in Shibuya. A movie that put all others to shame, a movie that made US torture porn look like Saturday morning cartoons. A movie that went straight for the gut and had even the hardest gore hounds retching and vomiting from disgust.
Cut to mid 2009 and the UK based video company 4Digital Asia announced the movie, Grotesque, as part of their fall line up of coming releases. But that’s about as far as it got. The movie's reputation went through the roof as the British board of censors, The BBFC, pulled every break they could and banned the movie there and then due to the "high level of sexual torture and lack of both narrative and character development"… But whenever did censors start caring about narrative and character development, and do they have a point there at all? It's time to get defensive!
First let’s set you up with a brief quick fix; A man [Shigeo Ôsako – who actually looks like a young Takashi Kitano] sits waiting inside his van, preparing for something and fingering a mallet. Aki Miyashita [J-AV actress Tsugumi Nagasawa, also in Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police 2008] and Kazu Kojima [Hiroaki Kawatsure from Yôhei Fukuda’s Oneechanbara: The Movie 2008, and has a minor role in Shirashi’s previous Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman 2007]. The happy couple walk past the van and the man – from here on referred to as the sadist - sneaks out only to bludgeon them with the mallet. As they regain consciousness they realise that the sadist has taken them to an apparent torture chamber. With the premise set, the show get’s a rolling. Placing them both face to face, the sadist explains that he intends to kill them both, and that there is no escape – unless their survival instincts manages to arouse him He questions them one at a time, setting the rules for the sadistic game to follow, a game that starts with sexual humiliation only to move into torturous surgery. After changing into a surgeon’s outfit the man proceeds to cut off the couples fingers, hands and Aki’s arm before hammering nails into Kazu’s testicles and finally cutting of his knob with a huge knife. At this point in time the Sadist reaches a climax and declares that they have succeeded. They have satisfied his lusts and he has no need to keep the captive for torturous purposes anymore. The Sadist instead starts tending to their wounds and the healing process can begin. Slowly Aki and Kazu start seeing a possibility of making out of the ordeal alive, and rely on the now kind words of he Sadist… But, and there’s always a but, the healing process is merely a further level of his sadism and just as Aki and Kazu think that they are to be released from the sadists grasp, he plunges them back into the dark depth s of the torture chamber where the movie slowly grinds it’s way to the blood drenched climax.
There you go, Grotesque is a dark, seedy and provocative movie that packs some hard punches with disturbing visuals and some harrowing scenes that will affect you in one way or another – in other words it’s a fucking rollercoaster ride that is awesome in every imaginable way! But I still don’t see the reason for banning the movie in both the U.K. and Norway.
Let’s take a look at what BBFC chairman David Cooke actually had to say about the movie and where his main argumentation for refusing the film a rating; "Unlike other recent 'torture' themed horror works, such as the Saw and Hostel series, Grotesque features minimal narrative or character development and presents the audience with little more than an unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism. In spite of a vestigial attempt to 'explain' the killer's motivations at the very end of the film, the chief pleasure on offer is not related to understanding the motivations of any of the central characters. Rather, the chief pleasure on offer seems to be wallowing in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake"
Sure the movie is obscenely gritty, seductively sleazy and immensely disturbing, but in all honesty Mr. Cooke has obviously missed the mark as he’s making statements that he obviously can’t back. Well first off, do we really still need to have a nice tidy bookend to each movie we watch? Do we really need to see antagonists brought to justice? Well of course we don’t, we are educated people and we know that in the real world there’s a fair percentage of criminals that never get brought to justice (Jack the Ripper being one of the most infamous) We live in a more cynical age and we don’t have to see antagonists brought to justice at all anymore. If we watch a horror film, with the intention of being freaked out, grossed out, scared beyond all comprehension, or moved emotionally in any way then we want some of that effect to rub off on us, and there’s no better way to do this than through the open ended narrative. And this brings me to the second flaw of Mr. Cooke’s stale tasting argument, because Grotesque certainly does have a narrative, it does have character development, and they certainly are not small ones.
The narrative of the movie is found within the kidnapped couples story. They not only have an engaging tale of survival, but they also have a blooming relationship at bay. That’s why there’s a flash back to their first “date” ten minutes in after the sadist asks if Aki would die to save her boyfriend Kazu. Love is one of the most positively loaded values, and for this we will fight anything. It’s one of the most ultimate noble causes and that simple little flashback sets up our narrative driving force of the movie. We want them to get out alive because they love each other, and to keep that love alive they need to beat death bringing together the two strongest values ever put at stake.
These values are taunted, fuelled and used in a great way to manipulate the audience into getting even deeper involved with the characters when the Sadist decides that they have satisfied his sadistic lusts and says that he will release them after healing them back to health. It induces hope into the dark narrative and we once again see a possibility of the movie climaxing on a high note.
Secondly there are definitive character arcs within the movie. One is the couple that at first are distant, but before the movie ends have become closer than they ever did in the “outside” world. The line of dialogue “Look at us, two half people. Together we can perhaps become one whole.” Shows their progress they actually imagine each other together after their ordeal. In the climax just before the lights go out, they stare deeply into each other’s eyes, proving that they still as they face the darkness find a light within each other. So their characters do develop, they go from passive characters to active characters driven by their affections towards each other and their desire to stay alive.
Also there’s a small arc with the Sadist. After Aki has humiliated him in the climax of the movie, he takes to wearing deodorant. It’s a small but humorous arc, which also is quite in line with the movie. Because there is a humorous tone to the movie, even if it is a dark one, and that’s a familiar trait of the director Koji Shiraishi.
Koji Shiraishi is in no way a newcomer to the movie scene, or to the horror genre. He was shooting his own independent movies while in college and eventually he got to work on a real movie, that movie was Sogo Ishii’s surreal sci-fi flick August in the Water (Mizu no Nka no Hachigatsu) 1994. In 1997 he’d moved to Tokyo and dedicated himself to his storytelling skills which end up seeing his movie The Wind will Blow (Kaze wa Kuku Darou) being rewarded with at the Runner-Up Prize at the 1999 PIA Film Festival (A Japanese Film Festival open for all categories of film and has been so since 1977) Already here the cinematic style of Shiraishi was apparent – the faux documentary – a style that he also had use of when making the many of the shinrei videos that he produced to support himself. (Shinrei videos are much like the Haunted House TV shows, where the object is to wander places supposedly haunted with the hopes of picking up spectral occurrences on film.)
The shinrei shorts where advantageous to Shiraishi when the J-horror wave took off for real as it made him an obvious choice of Director on movies like Ju-Rei: The Uncanny (Ju-rei: Geijkô-ban – Kuro-ju-rei) the TV series Dark Tales of Japan (the Ônamakubi segment) both 2004 and the terrifying Noroi 2005 which has been compared to, and called the Japanese Blair Witch Project due to the documentary style narrative. But now you know better, as that was a trait Shiraishi had been using since the mid nineties.
Before Grotesque, Shiraishi made an impressive mark on genre fans growing tired of the repetitive J-Horror formula with Carved – The Slit-Mouthed Woman (Kuchisake-onna) 2007, a movie that enjoyed a decent success and sure is an entertaining little piece of contemporary Japanese horror.
Shiraishi has said in interviews that he was commissioned to make a movie so vile hat it couldn’t be shown in the theatres, and needless to say he pulled that one off superbly, if a horror director doesn’t offend people, he’s not doing his job right. Ironically though considering the reputation the movie now has, Shiraishi sees no future in the horror genre, and wants’ to move back into black comedic areas. His latest films Occult (Okaruoto) 2009 is more of a coming of age movie shot in his characteristic fake documentary style and features not only Shiraishi in a role, but also the great Kiyoshi Kurosawa playing himself. The two Teketeke movies he directed in 2009 also follow a pretty straight forward Japanese horror formula, although these movies have given him the possibility to finally direct a movie that is all in his own hands with out studio or producers interfering with the production, and that movie Cursed Violent People (Bachiatari boryoku ningen) will be something to keep your eyes open for.
Technically Grotesque is a wonderful little piece of work. Excellent cinematography by Yôhei Fukuda, who directed Oneechanbara: The Movie 2008 and Tokyo Gore School 2009 who keeps his handheld camera fluid and flowing all through the film, which adds to that nightmarish and documentary mind set. Tsuyoshi Sone’s editing is top notch as he constantly keeps manipulating the audiences into imagining scenes much more vile than those actually seen. Fast edits and cutting away from the carnage is a brilliant trick that you will see perfected in movies like Hitchcock’s Psycho 1960, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1974 and Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer 2001- all movies that leave their audiences thinking that they saw stuff they really didn’t see at all.
Even though the new wave of Japanese gore horrors may inspired by the likes of Hideshi Hino’s Guinea Pig 2: Flower of Flesh and Blood 1985, Toshiharu Ikead’s Evil Dead Trap 1988, Katsuya Matsumura’s All Night Long 1992 and Hisayasu Sato’s Naked Blood 1995 I feel that they have taken the style of these old school gore classics and set them firmly in a new setting. The movies hold more of a storyline than being more vehicles for showcasing ferocious special effects. And that is one of the things that I find so entertaining with Grotesque, even though there are some brutal scenes and horrific special effects at times in the movie, it never dwells on the scenes of violence, so it never get’s boring or repetitive, instead it adds to the over all atmosphere of the movie, and it’s that dark disturbing atmosphere and the engaging narrative/character development that makes the movie such an entertaining ride.
On the 21st of April 2010 Njuta Films who definitely are releasing some of the most impressive titles onto the Scandinavian market right now, push the boundaries, screw the censors and release Grotesque into the world of home entertainment. And it’s a welcome addition to any fan of extreme Japanese genre cinema; a piece that I’m sure people will still be talking about in the years to come and a movie that will move you emotionally in one way or another. The ending, even though dark and nihilistic adds to the shock value and over all pessimism of the film, and when people bitch about dark ending’s then throw Philip Kaufman’s award winning The Unbearable Lightness of Being 1988 based on Milan Kundera’s book at them. No movie is as fucking depressing and haunting as that bastard movie – even if it is a great one.
Sitting perfectly on the shelf between Hideshi Hino’s Guinea Pig movies and Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs 2008 (which for the record was passed without any cuts made in the UK), Grotesque is destined to become a classic masterpiece, a movie that you need to see and experience before you make unrelated statements about storytelling or sub genre conventions.
Dolby Digital 2.0 or Dolby Digital 5.1 - Japanese Dialogue. Swedish, Danish or Finnish subtitles optional.
The original Trailer, a slideshow and five trailers for other Njuta Film releases.