I'd been looking for this for a long time, but I'm not the only one. It's one of those whispered-about films that's almost a Holy Grail for horror fans, up there with Psycho: The Snuff Reels. It's got such a reputation that a lot of gorehounds have ended up being disappointed, judging it purely on gore effects and vomit-a-bility, on which it's actually tamer than I'd expected.
It's still strong stuff, though. What makes it different to other Daisuke Yamanouchi films is its realism. Kyoko vs. Yuki
is just silly. Blood Sisters
, Girl Hell 1999
and the Red Room
films are more serious, but still Yamanouchi's going so far with all of them that it's impossible to regard them as taking place in the real world. A few years later he'd be making Android Girl Nami and Android Girl Rima, so that's clearly not a priority for him. Muzan-E though is documentary-style, with a protagonist (Yuki Emoto) who's a reporter investigating rumours of snuff porn films. We see her production team. She goes into a real video shop and checks out the staggering porn section, which is entirely normal in Japan. She attends the shooting of a porn film you'll wish you could un-see, then interviews its director and actors.
This is a strong foundation. There's plenty to examine in the Japanese porn industry and this film is genuinely participating in the discussion, albeit from an extreme angle. It brings up arguments that are genuinely raised in these context, e.g. the porn actress who hopes that potentially dangerous perverts will be satisfied just watching her video in the privacy of their own homes.
However Emoto is chasing the really dark stuff. She manages to get her hands on a video. She watches it. She observes geographical clues and goes off in search of the perpetrators. Does it need saying that this is a bad idea? Obviously not, but the film's last ten minutes take a further twist that adds yet another layer to the film's engagement with its theme and make the film much more interesting than I'd been expecting. Overall, it's another strong Daisuke Yamanouchi film. It's less explicit than the Red Room
films, both in terms of gore and sexual content, but it makes up for that in grimy verisimilitude that makes it appallingly convincing. It also has imaginative porn ideas so revolting that I hope even Japan hasn't come up with them in real life. Anyone finding these sex scenes erotic should probably be locked away for the good of society. That's not hyperbole.
As always, this film's reputation is a two-edged sword. You'll be disappointed if you're hoping for Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood
, but personally I was on edge most of the way through. It started with the blood-in-the-bath scene at about the 15-20 minute mark, which made me feel ill even with very little (or no?) physical injury. Unsurprisingly, after that I was tense. What was coming next? What would Yamanouchi come up with? The inevitable answer: bad things.
That said, though, the film made me laugh a couple of times. The chirpy AV actress giving a V-sign to camera struck me as funny, while it amuses me to wonder if Coca-Cola paid for that product placement. I'm guessing "no".
The cast are, needless to say, obscure. They've been in other Daisuke Yamanouchi films and/or porn. That's about it. However the good news is that they do a rather good job, partly because I suspect they're often playing themselves. Yuki Emoto faces the biggest challenge and pulls it off well enough, although obviously you'd expect to get more vivid emoting from a mainstream actress. Judi Dench must have been busy. However the interviews feel natural and engaging, while you're never pulled out of the film by a clunky moment or a non-actor.
The film's title is a classical reference, incidentally. The Muzan-E, also known as the 'Bloody Prints' or the 'Twenty Famous Eight Murders with Verse', is possibly the first known example of Japanese ero-guro, painted in the 1860s. Today these are still influential among manga-ka, filmmakers and even artists outside Japan.
I've said before that I admire Yamanouchi. It's a shame that he's only doing porn these days, because a few years before this he won the Off Theatre Competition Jury Prize at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, for his film Blood Red Girls. (Mind you, two years later the same festival gave an Encouragement Prize to Noboru Iguchi for Kurushime Girl, so they're clearly broad-minded.) This isn't a misogynistic film, surprisingly. It's shot from a female perspective, not a male one, and has plenty of commentary on extreme porn and its possible effects on its consumers and on society in general. Particularly unforgettable are some broken people's expectations on meeting a porn star. Yuki Emoto gets a strong role to play and there's much more to her character than you'd expect from the kind of film she's in, even given its writer/director. I can't say I'm in a hurry to rewatch it, but I'm very glad I finally tracked it down.
I still prefer the Red Room
films, though. I believe I'm alone in this opinion, but for me they're masterpieces of twisted character work. Muzan-E isn't reaching that level, but it's undeniably special. Note Yamanouchi's thoughtful use of digital mosaics, for instance. (You'll never be so grateful again in your life for groinal censorship.) As usual with Yamanouchi, this film is richer and more intelligent than it looks... although obviously you wouldn't want to go recommending it to people with weak stomachs.
Particularly memorable: the used tampon.