Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf Review
In 2001 and at seventy-seven years of age an ever eager Teruo Ishii embraced the medium of digital video for what was to be his final film. A long time fan of Hirai Taro, or Edogawa-Rampo as he’s better known, he proceeded to adapt two of the famous author’s works of fiction. Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf is a fusion of Rampo’s “Blind Art” (1931-1932) and “The Dwarf” (1926-1927). Rampo is famed for being one of Japan’s most prominent writers of detective stories; taking his pen name from Edgar Allan Poe his stylings are a mixture of the macabre, a la Poe and Lovecraft, along with the classic, staple investigative grace of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who he had cited as a major influence. In the years since Rampo ceased publishing his novels there have been dozens of film adaptations based on his works, most notably Yasuzo Masumura’s own Blind Beast in 1969 and Ishii’s controversial Horror of the Malformed Men in the same year. Even the star of Ishii’s final film, Shinya Tsukamoto, played his part by bringing Gemini to life. Rampo continues to be an inspiration to film makers out there, as does Teruo Ishii, which makes this quite an interesting pairing.
Monzo Kobayashi (Lily Franky) is a writer of mystery novels. One night he becomes involved in his very own when he goes to see the famous Ranko Mizuki (Mutsumi Fujita) perform her song and dance on stage. As he watches her performance he notices a man acting rather strangely (who had met her shortly before); it intrigues him but he thinks little of it. Later, as he heads home, Monzo witnesses a dwarf (Little Frankie) drop a severed arm before he goes back to collect it. He’s not quite sure if it’s real or not but he becomes interested in investigating. Soon afterward an old crush of Monzo turns to him for help. Yurie (Reika Hashimoto) wants him to introduce her to his friend Kogoro Akechi (Shinya Tsukamoto) who is also a private investigator. Akechi doesn’t wish to get involved in any investigation, but he’s soon drawn into one when Ranko Mizuki is reported missing, soon waking up in the den of a blind masseuse (Hisayoshi Hirayama). Together Monzo and Akechi set out to solve a bizarre and puzzling case.
Teruo Ishii was an ambitious fellow and if anything Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf does well to highlight that. Ishii’s ferocious appetite for the surreal and gruesome never seemed to falter throughout his career and watching his final works leaves a strong impression of a man who continued to be as energetic in his later years as he was when he started out. Certainly the likes of Screwed and Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf saw him not only take on more dark subject matter and violent content that had made him so famous, but they also showed a deeper side to him. These films also serve as decent psychological trips in which the director blurs realities to quite a successful degree. In addition Ishii’s trademark fascination with the female form has long held up well under scrutiny and here we see him get right back into his exploitative nature where he uses sex and sadism as a form of commentary. It could be argued that sex is merely sex, that all he needs to do is show some boobies and that would be fine, but he lingers around and as events progress and more female victims enter the fray it becomes apparent that one’s sexuality can be all too much of a dangerous weapon, and even detrimental to those who are blessed. At times Ishii does well to sell this notion, while others he takes on a more ambiguous form and controversially spins these actions around; a scene involving Ranko succumbing to her captor and ultimately enjoying her experience being a prime example. Even the violence itself is very sexualised - gruesome but driven by insatiable desires - and this is where Ishii does well to balance the formula.
As a visualist who uses images to say more than words, Ishii does a remarkable job of helming his last picture. The budget is obviously low and the gore won’t convince, yet the director sells it. A scene that plays out toward the end of the picture showing the blind masseuse gorge on one of his victims is jarring and incredibly effective, while elsewhere Ishii sticks predominantly to a voyeuristic, freestyle angle, which is often a good ploy with DV features. He attempts to add realism with his slow and steady actions as he follows several players around while they provide the necessary exposition. He drowns his film in an interesting assortment of colours, which tend to be more metaphorical; the cave made up of cast body parts is lit with pink and green tints, harking back to the good old seventies where he used colour to superb effect. It’s not always fitting here and it does lend itself toward the overall cheapness of the film, though some of its surreal aesthetics - including a giant mouth with moving tongue - make up a little for that. However he captures the necessary sense of entrapment; his shots are tight and often well placed, though a few slightly shaky moments occur, and by that I don’t mean the deliberate ones.
Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf ultimately falters on its combination of stories. The problem is that it’s far too convoluted for a 95 minute run time, with a fair few plot irregularities. Ishii tries his damn hardest to interweave two separate narratives, from two entirely separate novels and make them work as one cohesive story, but it’s evident that the main plot takes second billing to the copious amounts of nudity and violence. Granted it does retain a strong sense of mystery which is drawn out through lengthy conversational pieces as we’re told the story through the eyes of Monzo and Akechi, but it’s never fully captivating; neither is the eventual character reveals which at best draw a little sympathy from the viewer. Toward the final act, when all the revelations come out and a dozen names are thrown about during the obligatory gathering in which the detective tells everyone how he solved the case there’s a sense of relief, but then Ishii continues the story for another fifteen minutes, which then turns into something of a silly comedy. True to form he uses humour to good effect throughout the feature, relying on subtle creativity and breaking up some occasional moments of monotony, but on occasion he indulges himself a little too much.
Despite some obvious flaws Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf attracts a solid cast of largely unknown faces. Heading the line up is Lily Franky as novelist and friend to Akechi Monzo: Kobayashi. Franky, an author himself and artist appears here in his debut performance (of only two to date) and manages to convincingly pull off the role of the intrigued writer caught up in his own real life mystery, while being the laid back, secretive sidekick to Akechi. Which then brings me to cult film director and actor Shinya Tsukamoto as the famous private investigator Kogoro Akechi. Rampo used Akechi throughout several of his novels, which became reflective of Doyle’s own storytelling. His appearance in this film relates to “The Dwarf” and we’re introduced to quite an interesting fellow. Tsukamoto is a lot of fun to watch in his role and we already know that it’s a character who he can embrace, since he’s a Rampo fan himself. Watching Tsukamoto you can indeed imagine him playing the character in a recurring series, something that might well suit television. Mutsumi Fujita appeared in three of Ishii’s nineties features, including Screwed and Jigoku, looking quite different here as the sexed up “Moulin Rouge” performer, while Survive Style 5+’s Reika Hashimoto provides a neatly understated performance as a crucial character. The baddies here are performed by the little known Hisayoshi Hirayama and Little Frankie as the Blind Beast and Dwarf respectively; an area in which Ishii conjures up contrasts between both: the beast being a lunatic who isn’t as dumb as people thinks he is and the dwarf wreaking vengeance on a society that belittles him. Sadly, Little Frankie - the last great Japanese dwarf wrestler - passed away one year later of natural causes.
Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf is the second of Panik House’s Ishii collection. As with Screwed we get English and Spanish menu options, which take us to some nicely animated menus. The designer of these is New York Underground Artist Gea*, who’s work also features on the main DVD cover. The problem with the cover is that while the artwork is very nice it’s almost impossible to see. When they were promoting the title the images showed up as being blue line art on a black background (which incidentally appears on the included sticker inside), which worked nicely, but the final design features black lines on a black background which are just about visible. Also included is a numbered insert, with art work featuring Little Frankie.
As with Screwed Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf is a victim of its own tools. The film was recorded on digital video in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and subsequently was poorly converted for its video release. We’re not talking Sony Vipers here, this is low budget DV that many an amateur has picked up and worked with. As such there’s not a great deal to recommend. The image is a little soft, though this varies from interior and exterior shots and colours range from being suitably colourful to downright murky, with some bleeding, aliasing and cross-colourisation also thrown in. On occasion the film judders and there’s also some poor compression which I’m guessing isn’t Panik House’s fault. Ishii might not have realised it at the time, but DV sure as hell has its problems. As with Screwed I have been fair when scoring the picture. A lot of this is inherent to the original source.
For sound we have Japanese Dolby Digital Surround 2.0. It’s not great by any means, having an often tinny sound to voices, along with dialogue being drowned out on occasion by on location weather effects and slightly ramped up score. There is also poor lip synching and again these all appear to be by-products of Ishii’s shooting method. For the most part though it sounds alright, enough to get us through the film which is all we really need.
Optional English subtitles are available and as with Screwed they’re of the white and blue variety.
A behind the scenes feature entitled “The Making of Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf” (13:56). It’s a fun look at the production; everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and we learn of an interesting philosophy in terms of casting, that being the requirements for casting was enthusiasm for movies, rather than age, sex and experience. We also see several other Rampo fans and directors who make cameos. The feature introduces us to most of the cast and crew members as they shoot over a period of one month before the end of wrap party. A small but really nice collection of artwork from Gea* is also present, along with poster and still galleries, the usual production notes and bios for Teruo Ishii, Edogawa Rampo and Little Frankie. Also on the disc are trailers for this film, Screwed and Tokyo Psycho.
Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf is more about the experience, rather than the film as a whole. It’s deeply flawed but it has flashes of genius which help to elevate it, including pleasant humour and some genuinely disturbing acts of violence. Teruo Ishii had often talked about his dream project that would be entitled “Once Upon A Time in Japan”, which would star friend and cinematic icon Ken Takakura. He was confident that one day he’d get around to it, but sadly it was never to be. Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf isn’t his masterpiece and neither is it a particularly fitting swan song, but it is an Ishii film, with classic Ishii ideas and spots of inventive camera work. He was indeed a curious fellow who created curious works of fiction and at least he went out like the mad hatter he was.
Last updated: 10/05/2018 04:33:52