Friday 28 August 2009


Banned in the UK! Made in Japan! How could I not watch it?

Kazuo and Aki have just been on their first date, and it went pretty well. As they walk and talk, Aki boldly asks Kazuo if he'd die for her. He says he would do his best. Moments later, they're attacked by a man wielding a mallet. When they come to, Kazuo and Aki find themselves gagged and bound to metal slabs. Their attacker explains that he is going to torture and kill them. Unless they can excite him. If their captor experiences sexual arousal while he tortures them, he will let them go. The torture begins with a round of sexual abuse, and ends with Kazuo's castration. Having finally experienced arousal, the nameless torturer sets to work treating his victims. He says he will bring them to the police, turn himself in, and give them all his money. Kazuo and Aki are both hopeful of recovering from their ordeal, but they soon find themselves back in the torture room. The torturer wants one more go at stimulation before setting his victims free.

About five minutes in, I nearly turned off the movie. I was so disgusted, I thought there's no way I can sit through the rest. What got me was the vomit. The torturer's first act is to stab Kazuo in the mouth and then the side which prompts Kazuo to spew. I've always been squeamish about puke. Granted, Kazuo's barf isn't likely to gross out most viewers, but it sets the stage for the cavalcade of awfulness that's to follow. Thankfully, the hurling is kept to a minimum, but the film ups the ante with scissors and chainsaws; whatever it is that makes you squirm, you're likely to find it in this film. Most of it I watched with my mouth hanging open, completely blown away by the in-your-face nature of the violence and gore.


I don't generally watch a lot of hard-core gore and torture porn, so I can't comment on how Grotesque compares with other films of similar type. But, like the Saw movies, Grotesque frames its torture as a battle of wills. The film pits the torturer's will to inflict pain against Kazuo and Aki's will to live. Unlike Saw, however, Grotesque is sexually charged, and it's the victims' willing endurance and suffering driven by the hope of survival that causes the torturer to become sexually aroused. In the last torture sequence, as Kazuo is desperately trying to cut himself free of is own innards, the torturer shouts encouragement. He's cheering as much for Kazuo as he is for himself, as he approaches climax.

But the odds are stacked against Kazuo, which gives the whole thing an air of futility. The torturer seems sincere, but his need for gratification surpasses his honesty. So not only are Kazuo and Aki deprived of their freedom, the torturer deprives himself of sexual gratification. All this would be fine, if a bit depressing and torturous in its own right, were it not for a weird tonal shift at the end of the movie. Aki confronts the torturer, looks him square in the eye and deconstructs him. It's the first time Aki's shown any kind of personality, and there's a moment when you think her empowerment will tip the balance in her favour. But it only enrages her captor and it's at this precise moment the film changes from horror to comedy, though I doubt any of it was meant to be funny. The comedy kind of prevents you from taking the film seriously, but earlier scenes of abuse are awful enough that they stay with you.

After having sat all the way through Grotesque, I can see why it was banned: the film is unfailingly abusive and violent. In spite of Aki's psychoanalysis of her torturer, the film makes no apologies for its content, nor does it attempt to comment on it. Shot with a hand-held camera, the film evokes a certain amount of realism, and the gore and sound effects only add to that.

I can't in good conscience actually recommend anyone watch this movie, but most of the film is so well done, it kind of deserves to be seen.

Kind of.

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