Running time: 73 mins
Director: Koji Shiraishi
Starring: Tsugumi Nagasawa, Hiroaki Kawatsure, Shigeo Osako
Format: DVD (Import only)
In 2007 Koji Shiraishi co-wrote and directed Carved : A Slit-Mouthed Woman a tough but relatively well received supernatural horror. Many fans of Asian horror were left open mouthed and in much anticipation of what was to come next from the writer/director. Two years later the anticipation was answered with Grotesque a film that divided the audiences and censors alike and lit the fuse for the twenty-first century’s video nasty new wave.
A deranged doctor (Osako) kidnaps a young couple and subjects them to increasingly extreme levels of torture for his own sexual gratification. It’s always good when you can sum up the plot of your film in one snappy line, the problem lies when you are asked to elaborate on the matter and the conversation is left with dead air. For all it’s trappings of belonging to a solid national cinema that does horror extremely well (just look at the spate of
Hollywood remakes) Grotesque is very much the unwelcome gatecrasher. The narrative of the film is paper thin and the script is comprised of one difficult set piece after another that are barely lined together by any form of plot or script. Character development is left to a minimum, neither half of the blossoming couple are given any real characterisation and are used for two things 1. to further the character development of the unnamed doctor and 2. to be hacked to bits for his pleasure. There are also serious logic issues with the film, but that’s to be expected as the script seems to be a constant after thought.
The performers are all good, for what they’ve been given to work with, Nagasawa (Aki) and Kawatsure (Kazuo) have to do more of their characterisation and relationship building between them with gestures and glances which works well enough but only because they are good actors. Osako (as the Doctor) has the most to do and has several moments were he manages to create a sympathetic connection between himself and the audience which is quite a feat for a man wielding a chainsaw but that too feels born out of good fortune from casting a quality performer. The score feels almost non existent so soft is some of the tones that they are drown out by the sound of screaming and machinery, yet at other points it’s hugely manipulative and works at guiding the audience towards the emotions that Shiraishi wants you to feel. The cinematography is plain, Shiraishi uses colour well to highlight the brutal nature of the events depicted on screen but the camera work is basic and often lingers on shots longer than the audience would appreciate and in doing so places the eyes of the film firmly in the head of the Doctor allowing for even less connection or sympathy for the poor couple as they are systematically broken down into their comprising parts.
There was a great deal of debate at the release of Grotesque, the Japanese release of the film was a good ten minutes shorter than that of other countries and the BBFC flat out refused to give the film a certificate due to the depiction, not just of violence, but of human beings as objects for little more gratification and disfiguration. This appears to be their issue with Tom Six’s The Human Centipede [Full Sequence] though Six has a greater sense of humour than his Japanese counterpart. The notion of banning a film is one that sits extremely uneasy with me as it lessens the validity of cinema as an art form and implies that cinema audiences are less mature than that of theatre or literature and are therefore unable to decide for themselves.
The biggest issue with Grotesque isn’t the gratuitous violence or the dehumanising attitude of it’s central character and in turn it’s cinematography towards the supporting couple but that it’s actually a terrible film. There have been other “video nasty” new wave releases since Grotesque and all of them have had something of merit in them, no matter how small. Films like The Human Centipede [First Sequence], A Serbian Film and even Carved : A Slit-Mouthed Woman have all dared to push the boundaries of taste and the imagination but have tried (some more successfully than others) to inject something more, something thought provoking. Grotesque has none of this, it’s simply torture porn, an unimaginative attempt of making a twenty first century Flowers of Flesh and Blood. I wouldn’t ban it but I wouldn’t watch it again.