You can imagine it as a Frankenstein film, but with the Baron as a Japanese dwarf. I've also seen comparisons with Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator, which is perhaps a better analogy. Toshihiko Hino is a slightly mad and very small scientist who's trying to save the life of his dying sister, Mio Takaki. He seems a nice enough chap. He's very solicitous of his sister and brings her medicines that she doesn't take. However he also spends a lot of time and money trying to resurrect corpses. It would seem that his plan to save his sister is to resurrect her after she's dead, possibly as an android. Well, technically cyborg. Human body parts are clearly the focus of his experiments.
I'm not completely sure about that last bit, since Hino doesn't have many people to chat to and so we don't get much exposition about the details of his plans. However it seems logical. You could call it clever. You certainly couldn't find a more foolproof way of getting rid of Takaki's condition.
This is promising, but the film doesn't really work. Its problem is that it falls between two stools. On the one hand, it's a quick, cheap gore flick that exists to leer at Hino's gruesome experiments. On the other, it's trying to tell a story with proper actors and some emotional weight.
JUDGED AS EXPLOITATION
It's okay. It's not brilliant, but you've got to admire the schlockiness of any film in which a Japanese dwarf buys a naked dead woman and performs gross experiments on her. (Tits ahoy.)
The special effects can occasionally be a little cheap, e.g. the circular saw blades and the leg stumps, but there's some mildly flamboyant stuff in there and the film got me squirming at what Hino did to that ear, eyeball and especially tongue. Oh, and Tomorowo Taguchi turns into a homage to Pinhead.
The film's problem from this point of view is that it's tame compared with certain other Guinea Pig films, while furthermore it's the wrong way up. The nastiest stuff is in the first half. It's not quite so gruesome once the plot's under way and we're regularly cutting to character vignettes for Takaki, while the ending is downright lame.
JUDGED AS A PROPER FILM
Well, there's not much of it. Cut the gore and you'd barely be left with a half-hour Twilight Zone episode. Again I sort of like it, but it's underdeveloped and I'm admiring the potential as much as what's on the screen. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a cool motif, but its significance is unclear. The wrinkled old guy decades later is again a more high-minded touch than you'd expect of a film like this, but it lacks impact because we're not sure who the hell he is or what he's talking about. The final twist with Takaki... yes, and? Theoretically it's the perfect capstone for the story. In practice, it's exactly what we were expecting, but less so. It's just a couple of lines of dialogue, when the story needed more.
Regardless of my quibbles, though, these are still intriguing wrinkles. Note also the strong sexual overtones to the scene where Hino goes berserk, stabbing a naked woman over and over again. Listen to his breathing. It's as if he's having sex. That's one possibly disturbing angle on his obsession with saving his sister, which again would fit in with the Notre Dame motif. (Physically abnormal man is in love with unattainable but beautiful woman.)
In addition Tomorowo Taguchi's subplot is great. He gets an attention-grabbing first scene, phoning up Hino out of the blue and explaining that he knows everything the guy's doing and he has a business proposition for him. This is, needless to say, a really bad idea, but one's still uncertain about where this is going because Hino is an oddly pathetic character and because Taguchi's in such complete control of the situation. Well, appearances can be deceiving. Note the later scene in which this film does something you'll almost never see in the movies, by having a severed head trying to talk but unable to because it lacks lungs and vocal cords. (It does talk later, but only with computer assistance.) However I'm not sure that this scene doesn't have a plot hole, since we're initially told that all memories have been downloaded from the severed head while it was deceased, yet later on the head gets tortured for information. Presumably the first claim was exaggerated, then.
Oh, and Takaki gets more to do than you'd think, given that she spends the whole film dying in bed. She has wordless little scenes in which she pours away her medicine or pulls the heads off roses. It's a powerful build-up for the character and part of why I'd been expecting more from the finale.
This series's history is a mess, incidentally. Sai Enterprise made four of them, after while Japanese Home Video bought the rights off them and made two more. Confusingly these were released as Mermaid in a Manhole (part 1) and Android of Notre Dame (part 2), so Devil Doctor Woman
could be called either part 4 or 6. The information I have on the release history of this series contains contradictions, including a distributor (MAD Video) that doesn't appear to be officially listed. Well, I suppose that's what happens when you make films like this.
In summary: doomed to be underappreciated. I need to rewatch it in an academic frame of mind. I don't get the bells. I need to re-examine the Notre Dame references. I think there's something interesting here under the gore, but no one's ever going to analyse it properly because of the film's exploitation nature and the Guinea Pig name. It'll be watched by gorehounds who'll think "gore, tits" and eventually "was that all?" There's too much nudity and gross-out scalpel action here for BBC2, but not enough for the sleaze-hunters. It's intriguingly close to two stools that I like a lot, in completely opposing ways, but it's still falling between them.