Japan has made something of a name for itself in the horror genre. Over the last few decades, a steady stream of classic ghost stories from the East have been half-heartedly re-made into half as terrifying American facsimiles, diluting the sheer terror that their original Japanese counterparts have installed on audiences across the globe.
There is, however, a handful of films that will probably never be remade. These are not the typical spooky long-haired ghost stories that we have become accustomed to, but instead some of the darkest, most disturbing films, that arguably should never have been made in the first place.
So in today’s Go Nihon, we’re celebrating the grotesque, the horrific, and the downright messed up creations of some of Japan’s sickest film-makers to ever have brought their gut-wrenching cinematic offspring to life.
Suicide Club – Shion Sono (2001)
Probably the tamest film on the list, that is not to say that Shion Sono’s film is not a foray into the utterly disturbing; a schlocky murder mystery that eventually devolves into a bizarre Bowie video, Suicide Club follows Ryo Ishibashi (Audition, The Grudge)’s Detective Kuroda as he investigates a series of suicides in Tokyo. With lots of creative deaths, all set to uncomfortably cheerful music, Suicide Club’s opening scene (in which fifty-four high school girls jump simultaneously in front of a Tokyo subway train) is one that will stick with you for years to come. The follow up, Noriko’s Dinner Table has garnered much more critical acclaim and is, quite frankly, a much more watchable film.
Naked Blood – Hisayasu Sato (1996)
And now to the nitty gritty. At an unknown time in the future, a young scientist, Sadao Abe, creates a drug able to convert the sensation of pain into pure ecstasy. Indeed, an idea with the best of intentions. However, his test subjects are all fatally flawed, leading to some delightful self mutilation and almost unwatchable scenes of auto-cannibalism, the pinnacle of which involves a woman cutting off and ingesting her own labia and nipple in a state of pure pleasure, before graphically forking out her own eyeball and eating it. Jolly good fun indeed.
Mermaid in a Manhole – Hideshi Hino (1988)
You may have heard of the Guinea Pig films; Charlie Sheen certainly has. The actor famously got hold of a tape of the second in the series, Flowers of Flesh and Blood, and took the producers to court, believing that it was actually a snuff film. The films are famous for their graphic and at times horribly realistic special effects. Mermaid in a Manhole sounds, at first, as if it could be a fun-filled Disney movie, but in fact is the stomach-churning tale of a young painter who finds a dying mermaid in a sewage drain, takes her back to his apartment, and begins to use her increasingly nauseating bodily fluids as artistic materials. There are some films you genuinely reach the end of wondering where on earth the inspiration came from. With this, I can only imagine that Hino had some kind of vendetta against Ariel. I certainly don’t want to be part of his world.
Grotesque – Koji Shiraishi (2009)
Having been banned in most countries (including the UK – though I believe it`s still available to watch on YouTube) for its depiction of sexual sadism for its own sake, Koji Shiraishi`s Grotesque is less a horror film and more a test of endurance for any fans of the torture porn genre. When a disturbed doctor decides to test the limits of love, an innocent young couple find themselves drugged and tied up in his basement. What follows is a series of depraved eye-gougings, amputations and castrations, culminating in one of cinema`s most creative disembowelings. Lacking in any coherent narrative, Grotesque is the epitome of the gorno genre, shedding the need for story and giving its rather specific target audience exactly what they want.
Tetsuo (The Iron Man) – Shin`ya Tsukamoto (1989)
No list of disturbing J-horror would be complete without Shin`ya Tsukamoto`s seminal piece Tetsuo. Spawning hundreds of sequels and imitations, and pretty much single-handedly creating the J-Schlock sub-genre ruled over by petulant polymath Noboru Iguchi (Machine Girl, Mutant Girls Squad), Tetsuo revolves around a salaryman who accidentally kills a rather messed up metal fetishist, thereby being cursed into becoming the eponymous iron man. Testuo is about as dark as either horror or science fiction can get, and with its continuous flow of robotic rape with the aid of suction tubes and penis drills, is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is however, one of the most striking and memorable films you`re ever likely to see.
So there you have it; five of the most depraved and disturbing Japanese horror films ever brought to the screen. Next time in Go Nihon, we`ll be lightening the mood rather substantially with the top five live action manga movies!