Blind Beast

Dir: Yasuzo Masumura, 1969. Starring: Eiji Funakoshi, Mako Midori, Noriko Sengoku. Asian.
Blind Beast

A blind masseuse turns to sculpture when the thrill of touch becomes so tormenting that he needs an outlet for his desires. For every woman who he's ever worked on, there is an oversized replica of her limbs protruding from the walls of his studio. Of all the female clients that he and co-workers have massaged, Aki (Mako Midori) has always been an exceptional study in beauty. As the current muse of an avant guard artist, she exists only to be admired. Her figure becomes a target for Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), the blind sculptor, and with the help of his mother (Noriko Sengoku) he kidnaps the model with the hope of being able to immortalize her body in clay.

Michio and his mother live in a secluded warehouse far from Tokyo, and Aki is locked into his studio and given an ultimatum. She can either willingly model for his sculpture in captivity and be released upon its completion, or she can succumb to being put unconscious for the work until he's finished. He explains that for a blind person life is agony. The joys of the remaining senses are absent; they function only as a means of nourishment and necessity. Of these remaining senses, touch has become something that Michio needs to flourish. He further explains that he wishes to pioneer the art of touch, claiming that the other senses, such as sound, have an art form to match. Unwilling to accept things such as music to add substance to his life, he's hellbent on making the physical discovery of the human body a branch of art.

At first Aki is terrified of Michio, and the two go through a literal cat and mouse chase through his studio. She tries to escape and fails, though in the process she notices that Michio and his mother have a very strange and codependent relationship. His mother only seems fulfilled when she's meeting Michio's needs, and it is that marriage-like dynamic that becomes of great interest to Aki. Plotting the two against each other, or making his mother jealous of her presence, seems to be the only remaining option of escape. Aki starts to show affection for Michio, allowing him to lose his inhibitions and enjoy the company of a woman outside of what he's experienced with his mother. Before long, she's professing her love for him and Michio comes to believe that he has found true love. Her plan seems to work until his overbearing mother aggressively rejects their inorganic romance and tragedy strikes. Aki's plot not only backfires but it leads to a new and more disturbing dependency between herself and Michio.

The most interesting aspect of the film is its simplicity. Though there are only three places in which the story unfolds, it's saved from being considered minimal by its intricate scenes and character development. Each frame is busy with tools and objects that express great meaning, and the weakness of the characters produces a pity that a complex psychological labyrinth. Michio and Aki aren't believable subjects, and neither is the stage they're set against. As soon as you realize that their reality isn't tangible, nor could it ever be considered familiar, you begin to focus on their extreme relationship like a detective. You look for proof of love and deception and try to figure out who has the power over whom, or who is the strongest among the characters. Oddly enough, it becomes less of an investigation into their psyche and more of a reflection of our own weaknesses and desires. On a side note, the actors did an astounding amount of research for the film, and their performances led to a rich career in the Japanese underground scene.

Following simplicity, the cinematography and art design are also worthy of high praise. There is something to be said about art (such as music or paintings) being created for the sole purpose of being used in a film. The fact that it only exists in the experience you have with the movie brings on a sort of rare admiration. The studio in which Aki is kept is one of the most mesmerizing pieces of art that I've seen to date, and yet it doesn't really exist outside of the film; the larger than life body parts reaching out from a black space; the bodies the size of a small house that are displayed in its center. The sculptures carry great meaning for the characters, and they spawn an entirely different meaning within you. I've seen many filmmakers try to keep their story simple, having the action unfold in a restricted range. This method of storytelling can easily destroy a picture when the remaining elements aren't given enough thought. Blind Beast is saved from being mediocre by the director's thoroughness. Adapted from a grizzly story by Edogawa Rampo, known for his detective and “erotic-grotesque” writing, it is a film that redefines the importance of touch and the exploration of the senses.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 6, 2011 8:41pm
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