Teruo Ishii is one of the most prolific directors in Japan, and could be considered the country’s version of Jess Franco. Sadly, much like Jess Franco, his filmography can be a hit or miss. Films such as The Executioner and Female Yakuza Tale are true classics. This movie seems to fall in between, as it has a ton of things to recommend about it, but at the same time, it falls short on it’s complicated plot and overwhelming screenplay. The film was one of the most notorious to come out of Japan, getting banned for almost thirty years. This is amazing, considering in Japan you could have a snuff film as long as you cover their private parts with pixilation. Then again, this does have people eating insects and crabs raw, and the favorite Japanese topic, incest.
The story deals with a medical student searching for his origins based on the few memories he has from his childhood, such as a weird dancing man. He makes his way to the coast of the Japan Sea, where he discovers an obituary for a man who looks exactly like him. He then pretends to be the dead man resurrected, and eventually is brought to an island not far away where the dead man's father is purportedly conducting odd experiments on human beings. First to the positive things: the acting is pretty damn good. I don’t know anything about the Japanese language, but I think I can tell a good performance when I see one. The horror/exploitation sections are also excellent, even from the beginning. Look at the asylum sequence, with all the topless mad women raving and threatening to murder, it’s very effective. There is also the sequences in the island, sort of a twisted version of The Island Of Dr. Moreau. The deformed men and women are a triumph of makeup effects, and their movements are very unsettling, not surprising since they were a dance troupe.
Sadly, all is not right in Rampo land. The story is based on the most prolific horror author of Japan, Edogawa Rampo. As if trying to put every single element in Rampo’s extensive library, the movie suffers from a lack of focus. The lead is accused of murdering a circus girl in a subplot that really doesn’t lead to nothing, as far as the “getting framed” angle, and the appearance of a private sleuth from Rampo’s stories seemed pretty damn random. And his appearance brings in a ten minute flashback, and so does the doctor’s back story. These flashbacks over explain everything and is just not very interesting. It’s still a cool, unique film, with cool horror and exploitive elements, disfigured monsters, and enough nude Japanese girls to keep it interesting.