Friday, December 18, 2009

Guinea Pig 2 - Flower of Flesh and Blood.

Guinea Pig 2 – Flower of Flesh and Blood
Original title: Chiniku no Hana
Japan, 1985
Horror, 42 min
Distributed by: Unearthed Films

This past year took me to an all time high in my profession. I work with TV productions and was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity early on in 2009: to fuse my knowledge of genre cinema with my profession. I was asked to come aboard a project that SVT (Swedish National Television) where going to produce, called Skräckministeriet (The Ministry of Fear) working as a researcher and content advisor on the show which was to focus on the cultural aspects of horror. Even though I normally work in postproduction with a larger responsibility like keeping track of plots, subplots and the overall dramaturgy of the narrative, I couldn’t refuse this exceptional offer. And I have to say it’ was one of the most rewarding times of my professional life. I finally had a use for thirty years of watching films, reading books, comics, magazines, playing video games and watching even more movies in a professional context - a smorgasbord of horror and the fantastic.

I don’t know that there has ever been such a eclectic and fascinating variety of substance shown on Scandinavian television previously, and event though I feel that we could have probed deeper, and exposed more areas of the horror world, I have to admit that the show came out exceptionally well. There was a lot of stuff that hasn’t been on the tube before I can assure you that.

The original deal was that I’d be going to Japan to do the Japan episode (happy dance with Jazz hands attached), but this didn’t quite work out, perhaps to the better, as I could stay impartial to the content and focus on preparing the reporter who went on the fun and facts. (And Jane did an amazing job to be honest. I would probably have been gobsmacked and lost for words) Instead I got to spend three days in Switzerland with the artist H.R. Giger, showing that his art is so much more than just those Alien 1979 monster designs. I also spent a rainy afternoon with John Ajvide Lindqvist discussing children as a dramaturgical tool to highlight some of my own cherished moments and segments from the show. But I the one small segment that I’m the most proud of is the one from episode four - the Japanese Horror episode.

When I was asked the question “What is the most vile, evil and disturbing thing ever to come out of Japan?” My spontaneous answer was – "The Guinea Pig films!" I never thought in a million years that there would be a TV show in 2009 that would interview Hideshi Hino and discuss the infamous Flower of Flesh and Blood… but we did, and we showed clips too, even if the original ones in the show where exchanged at the last moment, actually a mere few hours before the show aired, we did show clips, and there was blood.

Needless to say, with today’s standards the most of the seven Guinea Pig films are not as shocking as they used to be. The realism and documentary video style photography [which isn’t an added trait to sell the realism, as the movie was shot on video for the J-Video market] are common traits of the grimy low budget horror flick as home filming equipment gets cheaper and cheaper. The excessive violence is common genre fair nowadays after the meaningless torture porn films have finished diluting the cesspool of hard-core gore films with their ridiculous plots and cheesy setups. The kids have seen it before, but back then... Holy Bloodbath Batman!

You have to acknowledge that Flower of Flesh and Blood still packs a punch, and will leave you with a profound feeling of unease. I’d say that this is because the film lacks the needed breathing spaces between the carnage. It would be like a rollercoaster without the suspenseful build as the chains crank that wagon up the initial back before the first drop. It’s all screams and ferocious action to the max. We need our moments of relief for the horror to sink in, but that’s not what Flower of Flesh and Blood or the Guinea Pig series where about, it was all about shock value and freaking the fuck out of the audience - and it succeeds. It is still a disturbing movie, even with the knowledge that Hino is a happy and gentle man and not the sinister monster you would believe the mind thinking up this atrocity would be.

If you may have forgotten or perhaps not even seen the film, here’s a quick rundown of Flower of Flesh and Blood for y’all. Starting with a random shot’s of people in a city milieu, the camera singles at one young woman. [Kiagara Yûgao] She walks the street and the shot of her is someone’s point of view. She is stalked by a car, which a man gets out of and chances her through a park finally catching up with her and sedating her with the old chlorophyll hankie to the face gag. Cue title sequence - Dip to black. We now see the young woman in a room, gagged and tied to a bed. There is a drip drop audio track to set the eerie ambience. She’s obviously in a dark, damp underground chamber. She hears a strange grinding sound, struggles for a while and then realises the noise is coming from a man [Hiroshi Tamura] - the stalker, now dressed as a samurai sharpening his small scythe. He turns towards her, lifts up a chicken and then decapitates it, blood spurting all over as he shakes the body of the animal over her. Then the movie starts to get freaky. The samurai gives her a tranquilizer and when she falls into a seduced state he gets to work cutting her up bit by bit, limb by limb, in a twenty five minute orgy of vileness, grime and hardcore gore that still today is amazingly authentic and difficult to stay unaffected upon viewing.

Fair enough, it is a haunting movie; almost plot less with the sole aim of nauseating you with those outstanding effects. But there are many giveaways that expose the move as a fictional piece and not the often thought real deal. There are several cut away's and continuity shots that wouldn’t be there if you where to kill someone on tape. Lighting, sound effects and sometimes cue music are heard at amplified, “edited” levels.

The samurai talks into the camera explaining the woman’s state of seduction and what he is about to do. This also adds to the illusion that it’s “for real”. But someone committing murder wouldn’t talk straight into the camera undisguised and never be caught for his crimes.

Nudity! There’s a naked woman on the table that I’m slowly disassembling, then I’m not going to make sure that her pubes and soft parts are hidden away now am I. There won’t be no sheet or entrails laid to avoid any unnecessary crotch shots would there. This is only so that the Japanese censors wouldn’t get in there with their infamous blot out spots, fuzzy blurs or digital pixilation. You don’t want that fucking up your illusion of carnage now do you?

And that chicken? Well if you know what happens when you chop the head of a chicken you’ll soon see though that illusion.

Today we obviously know that the Guinea Pig movies are factious works, but keep in mind most people who saw this film saw it back in the days of video and most likely on a second or third generation copy, before digital there was quite a loss of quality for each step beyond the source material you got. It easy to understand how someone would think this was for real if you've ever enjoyed a shaky, distorted several generation video copied movies where shoddy quality adds to the delusion. I remember being completely blown away the first time I saw it, as we kept rewinding the umpteenth generation VHS copy over and over again to re-watch the scenes to see how the hell they had made those realistic effects… or where they? Well if you where fortunate to have knowledge of Japanese and had a copy or even an original that was intact all the way to the very end of the credits you would have been able to read Hino's disclaimer pronouncing that the film in fact is a work of fiction.

It would be wrong to say that the movies are plot less, because there is a plot. In later instalments the films actually utilised rather interesting plots and stories in their narratives. Especially in Hino’s second film of the series, the rather poetic Mermaid in a Manhole 1988 (a better film if not the best of the series), and even the hilarious black comedy He Never Dies 1986, has a story, even though it’s a sinister one with the focus on the outrageous special effects. Flower of Flesh and Blood also has a plot of sorts, even if it is disturbing – The Samurai ‘s goal is to turn the young woman into a flower of flesh and blood! There’s almost a diabolic savant guard installation/performance art manifest going on there.

There are a lot of rumours about this film, among them, that Hino received a package in the post containing authentic video and photographs of a real murder. Horrified he supposedly turned it over to the cops, but not being able to get it out of his system he made his own video of the shocking images he saw. It’s a great tale, but like many “real snuff” tales it falls on its own illogical claims. If there where such a tape and it disappeared into the vaults of the police, it would resurface at one point or other as the makers would want it exposed wouldn’t they. Secondly that story is the fabricated pretext scrolled before the movie. We call it a set up. The true story is that Hino was so angered and disappointed that his manga wasn’t selling, so when producer Satoru Ogura [Seijun Suzuki’s Pistol Opera 2001, Princess Raccoon 2005, and Takashi Shimizu’s soon completed Shock Labyrinth 2009. Ogura also wrote, produced and directed the first Guinea Pig film] came a knockin’, offering Hino to direct a movie, he used all his bottled up aggressions and frustrations to depict his darkest inner demons, basing it on his own manga. See, who said that depression is a bad thing. Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs 2008, Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist 2009 and Hideshi Hino’s Flower of Flesh and Blood 1985. Due to budgetary restrictions he had to come up with a way to make his movie as cheap as possible, so the answer was one camera, one angle, and one scene.

The films obviously caused a stir when they first where released, becoming huge successes at the time in Japan. The two initial movies, released on video by Orange Video House earned more money than E.T. 1982 on home video. Japan Home Video bought the rights and continued producing and releasing entries into the series, with Hideshi Hino returning in 1988 to direct Mermaid In a Manhole also based on one of his own Manga, and once again becoming one of the top ten releases in Japan that month.

The one about Charlie Sheen seeing the tape and freaking out because he though it was for real and going to the MPAA who later went to the FBI is true, and one can wonder if the film would have had the same impact overseas without this fortunate event happening. Sure genre writers like Chas Balun (who incidentally copied, think generation loss, and supplied a co-worker with the infamous tape to start with), Thomas Weisser and Stanley Wiater where writing and praising these films at the same time, but the Sheen incident surely propelled the films into the notoriety they have. I’m amazed that someone working in the film industry would think that the film is for real. Sure it’s hardcore, but real? Come On!

Even though I’ve never heard anything about it, and believe me, I would as some mates and I distributed the tapes at the time of this supposed rumour - If you own a big boxed video release with the a.k.a. title The Severing Samurai on the back, then congrats, that's one of ours. But still, there is a tale of a lawyer during the nineties watching the tape, then contacting the authorities who forwarded the tape to a forensic experts so that they could establish if it was for real or not.

Then there’s the poor sod in England who had his imported US Bootleg seized by the customs and charged for bringing snuff into the country. Obviously they realised that it wasn’t but the poor chap still had to pay a fine of six hundred quid for the offence.

Urban legends or not they are great tales to tell those not initiated as they start to watch this stunning piece of Japanese genre cinema.

But sometimes the truth is more haunting than fiction and in the late eighties several of the Guinea Pig titles where found in the gargantuan 5000+ video collection of serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki after he was arrested. According to police reports he’d even copied scenes from his favourite gore films while filming and photographing the atrocities he conducted. Moral panic struck hard and the Guinea Pig where spotlighted once again. But over time Japanese Culture was blamed and not the films themselves, although the movies where banned from being released again in Japan and still to this day are not available in Japan. It’s even forbidden to make a movie with the words Guinea Pig in the title. It was after this rediscovery of the movies that producer Ogura decided to make two more movies in the series and a compilation of the best gore and effect parts. The title Guinea Pig – Slaughter Special and this was what Chas Balun started that party tape for his co-worker with… yeah the Charlie Sheen tape.

The guy who created those convincing effects Nobukai Koga surprisingly didn’t shoot to stardom and fame, as one would expect. Sure he’s still in the industry, but to date he’s only worked on a dozen or so movies. I’d have expected this guys effects to be in demand all the time, but surprisingly not. Although he did follow up Flower of Flesh and Blood with Sogo Ishii’s industrial noise opus ½ Mensch 1986, the documentary about German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten and Kazurp “Gaira” Komizu’s Entrails of a Beautiful Woman 1986 – a film that is indebted to the original Guinea Pig flicks. Koga worked with Ishii on several film including the impressive period piece ghost story Gojoe 2000.

The Guinea Pig films have for ages been public domain distributors (that fascinating loophole that my friends and I used J) favourite flicks and are still hard to find in Japan, but thanks to DVD there have been two official releases of the movies to date, one by the now defunct Devil Pictures of Germany and later by Unearthed Films of USA. Even these discs are becoming out of print, making the movies collector’s items once again.

As an added novelty Unearthed Films have hidden an Easter Egg version of the film referred to as snuff vision where the movie is presented in trashy VHS quality, with all the “narrative scenes” edited out so recreating that haunting feeling that this movie had when it first hit the screens of so many young gore hounds back in the day.

So to think that such a controversial film would be talked about, clips shown and all twenty years after the film first made its mark is rather unique and satisfying in more than one way. Hino’s manga certainly is great, his two films as a director equally impressive. Hino is proud of the movie, but ironically he in retrospect feels that it perhaps shouldn’t have been so violent and aggressive, the main ingredient that makes it such a renowned film.

Not only a fantastic Manga artist and filmmaker, Hino also is a maker of period correct samurai swords and holds a large collection in his humble home. During the interview he revealed that actually regrets making the Guinea Pig films and this because every time his neighbours feline pets goes missing they by default joke about the sword making horror artist that’s kidnapped their pet, turning it into cat sashimi.

Full frame 4:3

Dolby Digital 2.0, Japanese Dialogue, with optional English subtitles

Not really an extra but a the full lengths Making of Guinea Pig that shows the creative process and cheerful atoms on set during the making of the films, two text interviews with Hideshi Hino, the history of Guinea Pig, reproduction of the original Akai Hana Manga, image gallery and trailers for other unearthed releases.

Be warned this is the heavy stuff!


Phantom of Pulp said...

Enjoying your intelligent coverage of these films very much.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Thanks Phantom.

I never noticed your comment until today...

I appreciate it!


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