Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)

Director: Teruo Ishii

No, this wasn’t fucked up AT ALL. I’m a bit wary of “controversial” films, cos they rarely seem to be worth the fuss that they raise. In this case, the controversy seems to have been a matter of political correctness at the level of language; after the film came out there was evidently some sort of reform of the Japanese language in the early 70s, and describing a person as “malformed”—which in Japanese carries connotations that the person is not fully human and you should be mightily afraid of them—became one of the worst things you could say in Japanese. That seems to be a large part of why the film spent decades circulating only in a sort of underground fashion, quite apart from the stories of people being appalled by it enough as it was upon its cinema release… The material mostly comes via Edogawa Rampo (source for Blind Beast that same year, which was also not remotely strange, as you may recall) and fits within the ero-guro tendency, albeit leaning more towards the grotesque than anything else. It’s really hard to properly summarise; a man escapes from a mental institution, goes on the run after being implicated in a murder, and finds himself impersonating a dead man who looks uncannily like him. His “father”, a man said to have webbed fingers, has basically isolated himself on a nearby island. When our hero goes to check the latter, that’s when things REALLY get fucked. Up to that point the film has a kind of general atmosphere of strangeness, but in the second half of the film this just gets exponential; I spent much of the first half of the film wondering what the fuss was about, but I got it in the second. Ishii’s real genius was hiring Tatsumi Hijikata, the inventor of Butoh, as the Dr Moreau figure; his amazingly angular physicality (along with that of his dance troupe, who play his creations; unlike Freaks, there are no actual “freaks” here) adds something totally different to the mix. It’s convoluted (perhaps more so than necessary) and I’m not sure all the details add up, but it’s nothing if not memorable.

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