Pink Film Reviews - Blind Beast (1969)
Blind Beast is the second Edogawa Ranpo adaptation I've covered in my Pink Film Reviews, as well as the second pink film I've reviewed to involve a perverted artist. While I haven't read the original Ranpo work this movie is based on, and thus can't comment on how faithful an adaptation it is, I can at least say that I was able to understand the plot easily enough... to a point. And unlike Beauty's Exotic Dance: Torture!, Blind Beast is much more openly critical of its evil artist character... to a point.
The reason I add this "to a point" caveat is that about two-thirds of the way into Blind Beast, the movie takes a sudden swerve with its plot and themes. Things that seemed to be going one way suddenly go in the opposite direction, and themes that were pretty explicit in the first two-thirds of the film get thrown out the window in the last third, to the point where it almost feels like the first two-thirds and the last third of the story are from two different movies.
Blind Beast starts out like a horror picture, to the point where while I enjoyed it, I wasn't sure how the film had really earned its pink label. Eroticism definitely played a major part of the story, but there wasn't any explicit sex to be seen, at least not until the final third of the movie. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. As horror, Blind Beast begins skillfully, by establishing a sense of normalcy for the life of its main character, Aki Shima, before having the horror disrupt this normalcy. This is important partly because it's simply good story structure, but also because it avoids the main pitfall that Beauty's Exotic Dance fell prey to.
Aki is a model for an erotic artist, whose work has sparked some controversy among polite society. However, even if some of the pictures this artist took of Aki resemble the works of Seiu Ito, it's made clear that everything we see in the pictures is staged, and does not actually happen to Aki. When she comes home from work, Aki is exhausted, but otherwise feels proud about the work she does, and has her safety and health prioritized by the photography crew while she does her shoots. Also, while we never get to see the artist himself (him being only mentioned in dialogue), he's positioned in stark contrast with the villain of the film, Michio Sofu.
And he is a villain, make no mistake, of the mentally disturbed variety. While Michio could have easily been a standard Hollywood Crazy Person, there is a distinct pattern to his psychosis, which Aki and the viewer cotton on to, and which Aki exploits in her attempts to escape. The titular blind beast, Michio is a sculptor obsessed with touch. Unable to see the beauty of the world, he sculpts warped versions of human bodies and features. And after hearing about Aki's recent exhibition and feeling a sculpture of her naked body, Michio becomes obsessed with her. Wanting to make his greatest sculpture yet, a sculpture of Aki, Michio forcibly whisks her away to his secret studio to accomplish this.
The most frightening aspect of Michio is his lack of empathy. It isn't simply that he kidnaps Aki to be his muse, but that he genuinely cannot see why she would be upset by this. After all, can't she see how important this sculpture is? What a great artistic achievement this will be? Really, how can she be so selfish? Even in his attempts at bending Aki to his will, Michio can never wrap his head around the idea that Aki's refusal is in any way his fault. It must be her own stubbornness. She made him do all this.
Aki, meanwhile, is an excellent horror protagonist. She's played by Mako Midori, who has these really big eyes that can easily switch between doe-eyed innocence and unsettling creepiness, which serve her well for both disparate parts of Blind Beast. Using only her surroundings and logical deduction, Aki is able to notice that none of Michio's sculptures have genitalia, figuring out that this relates to his own sexual repression and frustration. Exploiting this and Michio's obviously close relationship with his accomplish matriarch, Aki slowly turns the pair against each other to allow herself to escape. Many of us have probably found ourselves yelling things at horror movie protagonists from time to time, things like "Get your ass out of there, girl!" or "Grab the knife! Don't let him get it!" And I'm delighted to say that whenever I found myself yelling such things at Aki, not only would she do what I said, but she usually did so immediately after my saying it!
Aki does pretty much exactly what a horror protagonist is supposed to do to survive, and the only reason her plans don't work is due to bad luck (like her getting the timing to escape off by just a hair) or mistakes we all could have made (like how her keeping her eyes on Michio prevents her from noticing the barrels she knocks over before it's too late). It's the former of these that demarcate the first two-thirds and last third of Blind Beast, as Aki, finally face-to-face with an enraged Michio, grabs a shovel, slams it into his head, and then gasps in horror as he doesn't even flinch.
Michio then violates Aki, and while I appreciate that the film turns away when this happens, I am utterly baffled by the fact that this act causes Aki to instantly fall in love with Michio. I'm serious. Aki is, like most normal people would be, disgusted by Michio, and desperate to escape his studio. Any kindness Aki showed Michio before this point was always a ploy to make the mater jealous or Michio flustered. But this one act is all it takes for Aki to no longer want to escape, living only to love Michio, and I really, really, REALLY hope that I don't need to explain why this development is not simply distasteful, but downright nonsensical.
Yet somehow, Blind Beast asks us to accept this plot element as perfectly logical and sensible, as it moves into its third act. Like I said, I have not read the original Edogawa Ranpo novel, and cannot comment on how faithful an adaptation this move is, but it would not surprise me in the slightest if I learned that the Ideal Horror Protagonist qualities I liked so much in Aki's character were the filmmakers' own invention, and her sudden swerve in characterization was the filmmakers realizing they still needed to faithfully adapt the book's ending, even if it flew in the face of the story they'd built.
All that said, if you ignore how the final third of Blind Beast comes about (and you should, it’s awful), and treat the third act as its own separate entity, it’s not that bad. Without the mater to cook and clean for Michio, he and Aki slowly descend into sloven debauchery as they become trapped in the studio. With the statue complete, but no way to return to the outside world, especially after Aki becomes blind herself (no it doesn’t make sense, but just… roll with it), the pair waste away and explore each other’s bodies through touch. At this point the actors have to lend seriousness to what is, effectively, an erotic pantomime. And, to their credit, they actually manage to give credibility to these scenes. The film takes on an arthouse quality at this point, and instead of the bodies-flopping-about style of sex scenes I’ve grown accustomed to, Blind Beast presents an unsettling yet sensual style of increasingly extreme love scenes, as Aki and Michio move from bondage to whips (which, hilariously enough, you can clearly see never make contact with Aki herself) to knifeplay to even more extreme acts which I don’t think ZENRA will allow me to type out.
This all culminates in the film’s final sequence, where the statue Michio sculpted of Aki becomes like the picture of Dorian Grey, its body fragmenting with each mark left on Aki’s own body, before the pair pass away, and the film ends with Aki imparting one final message to the viewer. It is, in keeping with Edogawa Ranpo’s other work, a message about how those who mess with unnatural and abnormal desires will meet a grisly and karmic end (nature and normality being defined, of course, by Ranpo). While normally my reaction to such moralizing would be to roll my eyes, in this case I was genuinely infuriated, for the simple reason that Aki never asked to be a part of Michio’s sick games. In Watcher in the Attic, Lady Minako deliberately sought out sex with clowns, and Goda deliberately sought out voyeurism. And while I disagree with that movie’s assertion that going from those acts to heinous crimes is a logical progression, at least those characters were willing participants in all the things they did. Aki though never sought out the things that happen to her, and yet Blind Beast still treats her as just as culpable and worthy of moral judgment as Michio, despite her clearly being a victim. While I enjoyed the third act’s erotic imagery, the tissue connecting it with the rest of the plot, as well as the film’s overall moral message, left a thoroughly unpleasant taste in my mouth. It’s like watching a wonderful musical concert and suddenly witnessing the conductor shit their pants while still going on like nothing has happened. Even if you enjoy the music that follows that event, you can never enjoy the concert as freely as you once did, and you walk away unsure of how to feel.
There’s an old cartoon from Punch, involving an elderly bishop and a timid curate, in which the curate is given a bad egg, but, desperate not to offend his host, he assures the bishop that parts of the egg were quite excellent, honest. This defense was not meant to be taken seriously, and yet, it aptly describes my feelings towards Blind Beast. Parts of the movie are very good, amongst the best old-school Japanese horror I’ve seen. And even in the last third, I did enjoy some of the surreal, sensual imagery. But these two parts simply do not mesh in a coherent way, and the film’s attempts at making their connection make sense is far more likely to infuriate the viewer than convince them. Overall, this curate’s egg is at least better than the worst pink films I’ve covered thus far, but is still in possession of too many bad parts to leave me truly satisfied.
Have a pink film you’d like me to review? Leave a comment down below.
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