It's doing the same thing Takashi Miike did in Audition
. There are lots of movies out there with over-the-top gore, but do it too much and it becomes either funny or boring. If you want an emotional reaction, make a normal movie. Its characters need to be ordinary people, with lives we can relate to... and only once you've lulled the audience into a false sense of security do you go for the gross-out.
However the difference between the two is that Audition
is a film you could show to normal people. They'd probably walk out halfway through and never trust your movie recommendations again, but the idea's not absurd. This film you couldn't.
Time for some background. Naked Blood is a Hisayasu Sato film and a remake of one of his own films from 1987, Genuine Rape. There go two-thirds of my readers already. Sato's a prolific director of pink films, which I shouldn't think needs translating, and is apparently one of the few directors out there who's good at making both straight and gay porn. However he also has extreme tendencies. He's most notorious for his "guerilla shooting technique", as for instance in Widow's Perverted Hell (1991) when the lead actress, nude and tied up in S&M gear, appears on a busy city street and tries to get passers-by to help her masturbate. Sato shot this for real. The actress actually did all this in public and the people in the scene are unsuspecting passers-by, with unsimulated reactions. Of his other films, Horse and Woman and Dog (1990) has actual bestiality. Promiscuous Wife: Disgraceful Torture (1992) has a cameo from the Paris cannibal, Issei Sagawa. Sato's most repulsive film is apparently Lolita: Vibrator Torture (1987), but his best-known works are the pink film The Bedroom (1992) and the one I watched today.
When I say "Paris cannibal", by the way, I mean exactly that. Sagawa killed and ate a Dutch woman in 1981 and was found "obviously" insane by the French and deported back to Japan. The Japanese psychiatrists on the other hand found him sane but "evil", after which there were legal complications and Sagawa checked himself out of his mental institution on 12 August 1986. He's been a minor Japanese celebrity ever since.
All that said, there's more to Sato than being mad and offensive even by Japanese standards. His films are liable to be tackling serious themes, like obsession, perversion and voyeurism. His body horror often gets compared with Cronenberg and from this film, I can see why. It's rather odd to watch, actually. Most of it's a rather drab-looking effort with cheap cinematography and a rather slow-moving storyline. Stuff happens early on, but after that it turns into a rather arty study of character and theme, believe it or not. I'm far from sure what Sato's trying to say, but it's certainly far too sluggish to appeal to anyone who's watching for schlock value. In fact I suspect it might turn out to be rather fascinating if I gave it some thought, but unfortunately your ability to think rationally is about to get barbecued by some of the most appalling scenes I've ever seen in a movie. Admittedly I'm probably only saying that because of my relatively sheltered watching habits, not having seen the Guinea Pig films for instance, but there's one scene in particular that I actually couldn't watch. It got a little better when she moved on from the nipple to the eyeball, since that's more obviously a special effect, but even so. Yikes.
If you've never heard of Guinea Pig, incidentally, leave it that way. It's now illegal in Japan to make a movie with the words "Guinea Pig" in the title.
Oddly enough, there's not actually that much gore. It's the Audition
trick again. The entire first half goes by without Sato trying to reacquaint you with your lunch. Even quite late on I was wondering whether this deserved to be called an ero-guro film, since the few such scenes we'd had so far had been so heavy on the "guro" that you hardly notice the "ero". It's a bit of a shock to realise a full minute into a scene that the actress in it has had her breasts bared throughout. However then came the finale and... okay, yes, question settled.
To tell the truth, it's a bit of a shame that Sato's so completely toasting our brains. If (big if) you can treat the ero-guro scenes merely as story elements, then there's some off-the-wall food for thought here. The film begins with a 17-year-old genius who's invented a vaccine that boosts endorphine production into natural painkillers, with which he hopes to eliminate pain from mankind and transform the lives of us all. What's more, his vaccine works. It just works too well. Got to admire him so far. Our hero then secretly injects his vaccine into three volunteers in his mother's medical trial, after which he gets a video camera and starts stalking his unknowing volunteers, filming them at home through their windows and so on. This is a smidgin less admirable. The correct thing to do of course would have been to inject himself, but we're looking at a rather confused person who at one point late on seems to have ended up abdicating his responsibilities to the world because he's holding a video camera. He wants to be a good man, but he's not a very healthy one.
That's the plotty bit. After that, the film moves on to a rather static exploration of character and theme. We get to know the three volunteers. One of them is an immature and annoyingly acted glutton, another is a clothes-horse who devotes her life to looking glamorous and the third is an insomniac with super-sensitive hearing whose only close personal relationship is with a cactus. She loves it because it doesn't talk, unlike other plants. She even sleeps with it, although that's not literally true since she can't sleep and what she actually does is connect herself to it with a sensory headset and then go into a trance. Anyway, she spots our hero following her around with his camera and challenges him, but they're both so weird and emotionally disconnected that they end up connecting with each other. That was a really good scene. However at the same time as all this, we've also got the home life of our hero and his doctor mother, who support each other and think about the father of the family and his researches into eternal life. He's gone now. Are you starting to see what I mean about the themes?
Firstly, there's a lot about alienation and being cut off from society. The more important you are in this movie, the less comfortable you are with other people. This is underlined visually with shots that are being divided by pillars, cacti and so on, to the extent that Sato even does this to a couple having sex. However there's also a strong focus on families, particularly sons. Our hero, played by Sadao Abe, names his vaccine "My Son". His mother's research had been into new techniques of contraception, to tackle the world's ever-growing population. The film keeps returning to that long-lost father, who gave Abe his name while he was still in the womb and predicted that he'd grow up to be a famous scientist too. Generations are all-important to this film, with parents' ambitions being passed on to their children even if it's in a scary and/or distorted way. There's a hint of an Oedipus complex, with Abe towards the end giving his startled mother a proper kiss. Then finally the finale is fascinating if you can make yourself stop and think about it. What's happening there? Is she doing good or evil? Or, bearing in mind the mother's earlier research into population control, is it both at once?
That's the least weird thing about the finale, by the way. Say what you like about the relaxed pace of most of the film, Sato keeps turning things around for the ending. There's one scene in particular that Cronenberg would be proud of and is almost too weird to be processed, both on a plot and a thematic level. Sato's certainly saying a lot there, but I'll be buggered if I can nail down what it is.
Surprisingly, there's an actor here I'd seen in other stuff. Sadao Abe would go on to act in Uzumaki
, not to mention Kamikaze Girls, Yatterman and more. Admittedly he's also sung in a band (Group Tamashii), but he's a rather lumpish, unattractive man who clearly didn't win the part for his looks. He's okay. Almost everyone's okay, actually. No one's great, but they don't disgrace themselves and the only annoying performance is from the cast's biggest-name porn star. Yumika Hayashi had a sixteen-year career in the business and was known as Japan's Original Adult Video Queen, but she died in 2005 after her 35th birthday. Maybe here they'd asked her to play the character like that, but I think she's overdoing the mannerisms and I was happier when she wasn't talking.
I laughed my head off at what follows the closing credits, though. "This story is fiction. The names, places and characters are not real." You know, in case you'd been mistaking this for a documentary.
I don't think the film works. The extreme material overwhelms it, making it hard to be fair to a story that deserves a more thoughtful viewing than it's ever going to get. However it also wasn't made for the schlockmeisters who are being expected to buy it based on the lying claim of "100% Gore, 100% Bloody, 100% Extreme" on the cover of Japan-Shock's DVD release. It's only about two per cent gore, actually. It's also not a particularly good, exciting or well-made film, instead looking rather cheap. However one thing it undeniably has is integrity, with even the goofy stuff being played with a completely straight face and Sato blatantly not caring that he's making a film designed to blast the minds of us mere mortals. It's neither camp nor cheesy, believe it or not. Bloody hell, though, it's nasty.