Numata (Kenji Nasa) - a Tokyo police officer, and his partner Tosaka (Takao Komoto) have been investigating a series of kidnappings which have led them to a Yakuza-run organ trafficking syndicate. After a mass of confusion, during which Numata and his partner are caught by the criminals running the so called “Slaughter House”, Numata tries to save Tosaka, but manages only to flee by himself. With Tosaka in the hands of the syndicate, led by a woman named Yoko (Kei Fujiwara), but presumed still alive, Numata begins a desperate search to try and get him back, despite being suspended and taken off the case, while Tosaka’s brother Nakanishi (Shun Sugata) also carries out his own individual investigation.
Meanwhile, biology teacher Dr. Jun Saeki (Kimihiko Hasegawa) has been harvesting the organs of young schoolgirl virgins and conducting experiments on the missing police officer, who now sits limbless, looking like a human shrubbery. How does all of this madness tie in? And at what price will Numata and Nakanishi have to pay in order to bring down the bad guys?
Kei Fujiwara’s working relationship with cult director Shinya Tsukamoto began around the mid-eighties when she joined his newly formed “Kaiju Theatre” troupe, which went on to perform several underground shows in Japan. Subsequently he placed her in his short films Phantom of Regular Size and The Adventures of Denchu Kozo between ’86 and ’87 (for those curious, seek out Raro Video’s Shinya Tsukamoto Collection, which includes these). But 1989’s Tetsuo would be the film that she’d best be remembered for. During the mid nineties she began working on some of her own projects, with 1996’s Organ (of which she wrote, co-designed and cinematographed) being the fruition of her idea which intends to “describe the agony of a wounded soul of someone decaying from the inside.” Of course, by that very metaphysical nature her work instantly parallels the likes of a young Tsukamoto, though her direction does have distinct qualities of its own. Unfortunately it’s not quite so as adept, but valiant nonetheless.
Fujiwara’s Organ is akin to Tsukamoto’s more visceral works of the late eighties/early nineties, being just about as literal in terms of powerful/disturbing imagery. Perhaps more unfavourably it suffers from being submitted into the extreme cinema camp, more specifically schlock horror, in which it struggles to develop two disjointed narratives in the wake of a tsunami of gore and misery. In fact Fujiwara becomes so wrapped up in her shock sequences involving pus-filled bodies, puking and severed limbs and symbolic, yet delusional fantasy shots, that she glosses over the far more interesting set-up, involving a police investigation into organ trafficking, which seeks to show more promise than her experiment on underlying certain human emotions. The problem is that the type of human suffering she’s on about doesn’t have to be so forcefully admitted and with so much over exposure one becomes all the more desensitised toward its intentions. The opening ten minutes on the other hand are harrowing as they approach a more sinister aspect involving very real crimes, and we get the impression that a great investigation is about to take place. Sadly it doesn’t. Characters get from A-B with little groundwork, and with so many knocking about there’s very little time spent with any of them; in fact it easily becomes confusing with so many side plots. Perhaps more interestingly Fujiwara takes the unusual route of fleshing out the criminal more than the protagonist: there’s never any great amount of emotion poured into Numata’s search and he’s barely a two-dimensional creation, while Jun and Yoko are so far as given workable back-stories, which admittedly end up being well crafted pieces of storytelling. From the effective midway twist it could be argued that Fujiwara
|The following text contains spoilers. Click and drag over this box to view.|
|thus explores the effects of family instability - more importantly abuse - in relation to crimes committed by certain individuals, while showing some disturbing acts of child violence;|
Running for an unhealthy 110 minutes, however, Organ often feels more bloated than it needs to be, with scenes dragging on for far too long. This merely provides the excuse for Fujiwara to steer her camera in all kinds of directions. We already know that she’s had a good experience around film production and she looks to take direct inspiration from Tsukamoto in that the film is very practical, using cameras mounted on motorbikes, ignoring dollies altogether and just winging it from scene to scene. It provides the film with that realistic, gritty approach, which certainly does well to capture the right atmosphere. In addition there are obvious flashes to early Cronenberg and she picks no bones about how much she’s willing to show onscreen. As previously mentioned the shock scenes are the lesser of these inclusions, but undeniably they’re well approached and highly grotesque, if not slightly ridiculous at certain intervals. But this is a woman well versed in the magic of low budget movie making. Like Shinya Tsukamoto, Shozin Fukui and Sogo Iishi, she makes the most of what she has; her frames are always filled with energy, even if they might lack a finer polish.
Before I get to the actual transfer I would like to clear up something for the readers. Having been in recent contact with Silk Purse Enterprises, who work on Terra’s titles and provide me with review copies, I have the following statement to report, which I’ve been given permission to print:
“NTSC-PAL conversions - we cannot do anything about this as they are delivered that way. I expect to stop us selling them in to the US territories. It is usually a contractual obligation. The only elements we can work on are the translation and scripts for the subtitles, and getting the timing correct. Plus the look of the disc - i.e. menu design, navigation etc.
Masters are sent either on DigiBeta, or even still on BetaSp, and are encoded from these. We never add edge enhancement to our encoding, but it is sometimes added at the mastering stage, so the master tapes come with it in place.”
So it would seem that many of these independent distributors, such as Tartan, Yume and so on, are under the same pressure, and while it’s not exactly something we want to hear, it looks like rubbishy politics plays some part, and for now HD is far away, which I’ve also been informed is far too expensive for independent companies to even consider. I shall continue to mention of course whenever they come through, but as of late it’s quite tiring to continually bring it up as it increasingly becomes the norm for world cinema titles coming from NTSC territories.
Terra presents Organ in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film shows a few scratches here and there and inherent video noise, while blacks during night shots have a little low-level noise to boot. The image is generally soft throughout, though quite good on close-ups and overall most of the defects are by-products of the original source: graininess, murky blacks. I suspect that it still could look a little better, but what’s here is perfectly acceptable for its low-budget roots, which often reflects against similar productions.
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 is the one and only audio option and it delivers what it needs to: clear dialogue and punctual sound as designed accordingly. There are no drop outs or other unnatural elements.
Optional English subtitles are provided and they have good timing, although there are two awkward sentances, but there’s nothing that proves to distract. The translations are otherwise good, but due to the nature of the story viewers may find themselves getting lost regardless.
A trailer and an image gallery are the only features on the disc.
Organ was deemed so sickening upon its impending release in Japanese theatres that a re-cut was ordered, but it really isn’t so shocking these days, despite what you might have read elsewhere. A controversial title indeed, though perhaps not one that’s entirely deserving of its infamy. Still, those curious in a little extreme horror, backed by some rather ambiguous social critiques, may like to see what all the fuss is about for themselves. While Organ is likely to make more sense on subsequent viewings it’s a victim of its own run time, with excessive padding and some tiring schlock activity, which means that it’d be lucky to have anyone return to it any time soon.