As with previously reviewed films Giants and Toys (1958) and Irezumi (1966), Arrow Video is restoring and offering up to audiences outside of Japan another Yasuzô Masumura film: Blind Beast. Arrow Video provides an opportunity to expand what viewers may know, or think they know, about mainstream cinema by looking backward at what came before today’s releases as they release Blind Beast in its original aspect ratio and with mono sound. Even moreso, like with Masumara’s other subversive or satirical works, there’s an opportunity to consider how the ideas of one time cycle back to another, making the new old and the old new. Adapted from writer Edogawa Ranpo’s 1931 novel Môjû: The Blind Beast, Masumura’s film starts as something misogynistic, eerily familiar within the confines of horror, before twisting into something unexpectedly sensuous and dark.
After hearing others speak of the fabulousness of model Aki’s (Mako Midori) form, blind amateur sculptor Michio (Eiji Funakoshi) decides that she must be his muse, kidnapping her with the help of his mother (Noriko Sengoku) to ensure her compliance. What starts as a simple asexual cat-and-mouse game turns into a battle of wills which powers within Aki and Michio an unexpected co-dependent transformation.
Blind Beast is my third Masumura film and, frankly, they truly do keep shifting in tone and approach. You can see some similarity in theme, but broadly speaking, they are so vastly different that each one feels like they’re made by a different director. It is, in a word, refreshing. Giants and Toys was light on the outside, yet brimming with a dark satire that you didn’t realize had enveloped you until the final moments. Irezumi begins in darkness and ends the same, making it clear that the entirety of the film would be a battle. Blind Beast begins with sexual energy and ends the same, with each bookend steeped in an artistic representation of sex and desire; one (photographic) keeps the subject at arm’s length while the other (the muse and artist interlocked) is far more physical and intimate. What makes Blind Beast fascinating is the detached feeling that overcame me by the end. I wasn’t sure what to make of the film because the opening, while titillating, is handled with such obviousness and the abduction is so filled with an over-bearing exposition dump, that shock took me over as the story went to places that the opening did not project. Or so, at least, I thought in the moment. It wasn’t until gaining some distance from the film that I realized the echoing nature between the final moments to that awkward opening that the themes of desire, possession, and art clicked. Depending on your sexual preferences or personal ethics, you might find Blind Beast to be depraved and, to a degree it is, yet there’s an interesting examination here about from where people find their pleasures and how far they are willing to go to chase that high. That the film begins as a sexual thriller with all the trappings of misogynistic control amid the burgeoning sexual freedom of the 1960s creates a torrid expectation for modern audiences. At the time, however, Blind Beast was one of many films under the heading of “Pink Cinema,” a title referring to the frequency of barred flesh, so the nudity and sexual themes were fairly common place; not to mention that the source material was already 38 years old by this point. Don’t confuse that description for a suggestion that Blind Beast is ordinary or average; no, the film pointedly augments aspects so that physical metaphors take on brand new meanings in the metaphysical. For instance, that Aki wakes after her abduction dressed all in black in an unlit warehouse places her at an optical disadvantage to her captor given that he knows the facility well and she doesn’t. The darkness is the obvious metaphor for his lack of sight, which later transforms into a metaphor for their ignorance to the world beyond the warehouse, their only focus being each other. That the warehouse is filled with individual body parts sculpted by Michio and placed into sections (a grouping of eyes in one place; legs, arms, and mouths respectively in another) implies a dissociation from humanity, women deconstructed to nothing more than their parts; yet, later, Aki and Michio engage in sybaritic activities upon the gargantuan sculpted forms of headless feminine torsos as though bringing the spiritual energy of the body to a lifeless form. This film is wild in ways which may likely disgust the average modern cinema-goer for its almost libertine qualities while offering challenges to cinephiles looking for something more daring.
For those looking to dive in a bit more, the bonus materials on Blind Beast are on par with the previous two Masumura releases: an essay available with first pressing editions (this time from Virginie Sélavy), a visual essay (this time from scholar Seth Jacobowitz), and a recorded interview/introduction from returning Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayans. In total, the two featurettes run close to 30 minutes, with Rayans’s featurette offering more historical context to the creation of the film, while Jacobowitz examines the film itself, bouncing between detailing the narrative and offering insight. Like Jacobowitz’s visual essay, make sure to read Sélavy’s essay *after* watching the film. Both of these involve detailed spoilers of the film, so while it may seem obvious to watch the film before digging in, make sure to watch the film first. What’s fantastic about each of these bonus materials is the greater context they offer in terms of exploring the historical circumstances of the film’s release, as well as offering insight into the source material and its own context. For those who have seen the film previously, you can watch the film accompanied by a new commentary track from Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson.
As mentioned in the introduction, the film is presented in its original 2:35:1 ratio with a mono sound mix. According to the liner notes, the HD master was produced/supplied by Kadokawa Pictures (who also handled Irezumi’s remastering) with additional grading by Arrow Films. While it doesn’t look contemporary by modern standards, it is a beautiful remastering with no noticing artifacting. There were a few moments when I had to adjust my volume, but mostly the sound was clear and crisp with good consistency. Also, for those curious, the packaging does include a reversible sleeve, so you can either display the release with the new artwork from Tony Stella (who also did Giants and Irezumi) or the reproduction of the original art.
Over the course of his career, Yasuzô Masumura directed close to 60 films and, if the three I’ve seen are any indication, they are a wondrous variance, offering an opportunity to explore aspects of our world through a narrow lens. Such a narrowing enables the audience to become, for a brief time, entirely swallowed whole by his ideas, placed in a situation in which they need to consider their own ideals against what may be something vastly different. I can say with certainty that the kind of destructive, sybarite behavior that engulfs the characters is not for me. Just not how I get my yum. That said, their descent into such dark pleasures makes a certain degree of sense from where we first meet Aki and Michio: her, naturalistic and powerful; him, perceiving himself as owed access to that which he feels is denied to him. Their combination is a tale that confounds expectations up to the last frame.
Blind Beast Special Features:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio
- Optional English subtitles
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Virginie Sélavy
- Brand new audio commentary by Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson
- Newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns (18:34)
- Blind Beast: Masumura the Supersensualist, a brand new visual essay by Japanese literature and visual studies scholar Seth Jacobowitz (10:51)
- Original Trailer
- Image Gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
Available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video August 24th, 2021.
For information, head to Arrow Video’s website.
To purchase a copy, head to MVD Entertainment Group.