Director: Tervo Ishii
Script: Tervo Ishii & Magahiro Kakefuda
Cast: Teruou Yoshida, Yukie Kagawa, Teruko Yumi, Mitsuko Aoi, Michiko Kobata, Yumiko Katayama,
Running time: 99 minutes
After being reminded of Japan’s many colourful spiders during the opening credits sequence, Horrors of Malformed Men went on to entrance and confuse this particular reviewer in about equal measure.
The film is set in 1925 and begins with a male prisoner/inmate in a mental asylum being repeatedly stabbed by a female inmate, until it becomes apparent that the knife being used by the assailant is a retractable, fake knife. However, when the male inmate is taken back to his cell he’s soon after set upon by one of the wardens who tries to kill him. The patient manages to turn the tables on his attacker and kills him instead. The inmate, who we learn is called Hirosuke Hitomi, makes his escape, ends up killing a woman (or does he?) and goes on the run, managing to escape to a nearby island.
The island he makes it across to belongs to the Komodo family. Realising that he is the spitting image of their missing son, Genzaburo Komodo, he ingratiates himself with the family by pretending to be the son, even taking the missing man’s wife, Chioko, as his lover. Add to the already weird situation the estranged and mentally unstable father, a crazy prophet, who wants to create a race of mutants to take over the world, and you’ve got the basics for a very strange movie indeed.
How much you enjoy Malformed Men will depend on your tolerance level for really bizarre films. I don’t want to write any more about the ‘plot’ since one is best going into this film completely cold. All I will say is that the film gets trippier as it goes along, and the ending has to be seen to be believed. It made me chuckle anyway!
Much of the film’s narrative is in the central protagonist’s head, especially early on, so you have to pay attention, but even paying attention doesn’t guarantee you’ll understand every aspect of the storyline. This narrative element doesn’t work all the time and seems to encourage whole sequences that aren’t strictly necessary.
The film is nicely shot with some very interesting framing of shots; unusual might be a better word! Underlying all the strange visuals is a weird and wonderful soundtrack, replete with animal noises coming out of people’s mouths. And talking of people, much of the acting on display seemed, at least to me, to be somewhat over-cooked, but perhaps that was the style the director had asked for..?
Horrors of Malformed Men is one hell of a strange film, with its weird familial back story and even stranger mutant community living on an island theme; mutants led, I have to say, by possibly the craziest self-styled prophet since a certain Dr Moreau.
If you’re into the weird and wacky, and enjoy the greater excesses of Japanese cinema (check out those disturbing flashback sequences) then this could be the film for you. For the rest of you, you have been warned!
Arrow Video is distributing Horrors of Malformed Men on Blue-Ray. As with most of Arrow Video’s releases there are a plethora of great extras to accompany the film, including:
An audio commentary by Tom Mes and Mark Schilling
Masahiro Kakefuda: Malformed Movies (13.38 mins) – an interview with Toei exploitation movie screenwriter Mashiro Kakafuda. An interesting interview where we learn that the number of pages of script for the studio was always fixed, and that the work ethic was high, with only one day off allowed per month.
Malformed Memories (23 mins) – Filmmakers Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo, the Iron Man) and Minoru Kawasaki (The Calamari Wrestler) talk about the career of director Teruo Ishii. It’s nice to see that both are fans. The featurette also features a short interview with the director himself.
Ishii in India (13.51 mins) – Teruo Ishii and Mark Schilling visit the Far East Film festival, which is screening one of his other films, The Man from Abashiri prison, a big hit at its time of release. Unfortunately, the documentary makers didn’t record the director’s intro to the film, however, we do learn that Horrors was based on a book called ‘The Strange Tale of Panorama Island’, and that the actor who plays the ‘nutter’ in the film auditioned by dancing for the audition panel with a chicken in his mouth – as you do!
Trailer (3.16 mins) – rather over long, as so many Japanese trailers are.
Image gallery – 11 stills from the film