Following the BBFC’s decision to refuse a certificate to Koji Shiraishi’s GROTESQUE, citing the film’s “chief pleasure on offer seems to be wallowing in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake”, as the major reason for its interdiction, British horror fans will no doubt raise the coffers of enterprising USA and Asian internet dealers willing to ship uncut copies overseas. So, is the fuss, justified? Having just revisited the film in its uncut form, courtesy of a preview sample screener, I can safely say that the film certainly raises the bar as far as cinematic violence and sexual sadism is concerned, and whilst regular visitors to this site may well take all the carnage in their stride, I would certainly advise UK distributor 4Digital Asia not to proceed with possible plans to challenge the BBFC decision in court. So, what exactly did BBFC director David Cooke and his “senior colleagues” deem too horrifying for our sensibilities?
GROTESQUE begins with a soft focus shot, of a man (Osako Shigeo) in a truck watching as a young girl (AV actress, Tsugumi Nagasawa) and her boyfriend (Hiroaki Kawatsure) walk down a deserted tunnel. As they pass by, they are brutally struck from behind with a hammer, bundled in the back of the truck and driven to the psycho’s lair, where they awaken to find themselves gagged, and bound to vertically positioned devices that resemble makeshift operating tables. “What do you want: number one, or number two?” the boy is asked. When there is no response, the maniac skewers his victim with a steel spike through the mouth and stomach, and pours white liquid down his torn throat, causing him to retch with pain. Attention is turned to the girl, whose face our madman slowly licks; “Want to save him? Would you die for him?” she is asked.
A flashback to earlier events reveals that the couple were walking back home following their initial date, from their fumbling questions and shy demeanor we can assume that both are inexperienced when it comes to relationships. Following the young man’s declaration of love for her, he is jokingly asked whether he would die for her? He replies, “If it comes to that, I will do my best”.
Switch to the present and viewers are submitted to an onslaught of increasingly graphic tortures and dismemberments inflicted upon the couple by our modern day Fu Manchu who offers them little comfort when he proclaims that “there’s a way out” of the madness provided that the couple can “excite” him via their will to live, the exact connotations of which become clear when soft music is piped from a CD player as our psychopath proceeds to remove the girl’s undergarments and slowly kiss and fondle her breasts before masturbating her to an exagerrated orgasm, all of which is captured rather graphically in lingering close-up by Shiraishi’s voyeuristic lens.
From here on in Shiraishi ups the violence to scales unseen outside of the early ‘Guinea Pig’ entries, utilising chainsaw, scissors, hammer and nails, along with various medical tools to maim his victims in turn, with the proviso that when each feels they have suffered enough, he will turn his attention to the other. Suffice to say, our protagonists prove thorough masochists in their gung-ho attempts to save the other from further bloodletting, which is all good news to the ears of our friendly neighbourhood butcher. Our madman also delights in the revelation that he is in fact a skilled surgeon, if you hadn’t already guessed from the way he yields his chainsaw.
Given the film’s raison d’être you might expect the gore quota to get tiresome after a while, but Shiraishi cleverly injects some solid black humour into proceedings with scenes that include the threading of nipples and fingers with surgical stitching to make a necklaces for the unfortunate lovers, and another tasteful sequence where the two victims are drawn closer to eachother in order that the boy’s ejaculate can splash over the woman when he is reluctantly masturbated by our madman.
Yes, its all fun and games here! Around the 45 minute mark, the tortures become so intense that our killer decides he is sated, having finally “felt the excitement”; his victims allowed to live. With their wounds dressed, both awaken in what appears to be a hospital ward, but we know there is a twist in store when the camera pulls back to reveal that kindly gentleman tending the flowers at their bedside is their favourite GP, and before long, despite his assurances to the contrary, it’s back to surgery for further carnage.
Gore fans are well served here, but despite a lackluster attempt to justify the killer’s motives in the final reel, (a similarly impuissant supposition diminished the impact of Pascal Laugier’s MARTYRS), the film’s excesses will fail to elicit anything other than a hard earned smile from ardent fans of extreme cinema. The characterisations, and acting are pretty sub-standard, even for Japanese fare, and it’s difficult to empathise with a couple of teenagers who fail to project subliminal signs of catatonia or outward signs of psychosis when subjected to such extreme abuse; our intrepid lovers even manage to smile and share a joke when recuperating from their initial visit to the torture chamber. Despite all this obliquity, GROTESQUE is worth catching should you track down a copy, especially if you delight in the fact that Japanese filmmakers can forever be relied upon to stoop lower than a slug’s arse in their quest to shock audiences with a variety of cinematic obsessions.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Koji Shiraishi
Japanese language (English Subtitles) / Japan / 2009 / 73 minutes / Colour
Banned by the BBFC