Watcher in the Attic Review

The Film

Underneath it all, don't we all want things that we shouldn't? 60 years of comprehensive education, 2000 years of Christianity, and even longer exposure to Judaism and Buddhism hasn't taught us all not to have the urges which guaranteed our survival and evolution previously. We may now hunt and gather in supermarkets, and romance our mates, but we still feel the same instincts to breed and survive.

It is perhaps in the midst of these particular instincts that we are most alive, either because our existence is at its most undeniable or that we are most aware of it. The creation of new life and the destruction of other life negate the powerlessness that we may often feel faced with the certainty of our own demise. And the power we can have over others in the physical can convince us that as beings we really matter.
Watcher in the Attic is Noboru Tanaka's treatment of two short stories by Edogawa Rampo(Taro Hirai) that deal with two people who find each other and indulge their own empowerment through sex and death. It is set in 1920's Japan, a time rife with Westernism and liberal developments which were soon to be turned on their head by the fascism of the military and the Emperor.

Our central couple are made up of a voyeur and layabout, who spies on the others in his boarding house, and a voracious woman, who one day has brought a lover to the house for her pleasure and discovers that she has an audience for her vices. Having a complicit spectator eggs the lady on and soon her sexual adventures become carnal killing. It is as if she has offered the sight of sexual murder to her voyeur, who in turn offers her a similar present through the death of his hypocritical neighbour.
The two meet through the act of watching and once the gaze they share is understood in all its appetite, they are empowered to overcome any boundary. Her sexual conquests become their prey and she indulges her sadism for her man. The two find themselves bigger than any societal rules as they find more victims and the only way they can be stopped is by the great Tokyo earthquake which buries them underneath the rubble.

The story is therefore one of repressed desires let loose, perhaps like the liberalised westernised Japan of that time, and then buried under a new order and new repression. For a roman porno film, this is an amazingly elegant subtext, and the movie serves up the frequent sex scenes required of the genre with an élan which is inspired by Rampo but twisted by the director. For example, the incorporation of the Human Chair story allows for an incredible coup de grace as the masochistic chauffeur is burnt alive in the vessel he has made to feel the warmth of his lady.
This film is also no one-off, Tanaka's A Woman Called Abu Sade is a magnificent dramatisation of the real-life tale that also inspired Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses. It is further evidence that whilst this director may have worked in an exploitation genre he had a truly intriguing vision of the human beast. Watcher in the Attic is absolutely superb.

Transfer and Sound

Given the number of atmospheric and lowly lit scenes in this film, a transfer must handle the contrast very carefully and keep detail visible and sharp. Unfortunately this is not always the case here as the image is quite soft and black levels are a little on the grey side. It is wholly possible to deal with the contrast and brightness levels with twiddling a couple of knobs, but I was disappointed at the detail on offer here. The general balance of colours is reasonably strong and overall this transfer is very acceptable once you reset your display.
The sound does carry some moments of distortion when dealing with high bursts of treble, although overall this is relatively clear and well reproduced for such an unheralded film. The optional English subtitles are very good with solid grammar and translation.

Discs and Special Features

An all region disc which is dual layer, Watcher in the Attic includes an interesting interview with Jasper Sharp, author of Behind The Pink Curtain and the usual half hour documentary looking here at the history of Nikkatsu's roman porno and pink films. Those of us who remember this series on TV enjoy these releases simply for the documentaries which enjoyed a short life on Channel 4 after Pete Tombs' excellent book was adapted to TV. This episode explains the genre growing up out of dwindling cinema audiences and concentrates on this film and Assault: Jack the Ripper.

Five Nikkatsu trailers are included - this film, Naked Rashomon, Assault, The Sins Of Sister Lucia, and Female Prisoner: Caged! - and we get a preview reel of the wild and wonderful other releases this label has to offer. Decent text pieces on the film and the studio are also included on this disc as well.


A wonderful film that is a must see for fans of this sub genre and that should interest fans of classic Japanese cinema as well. Mondo Macabro are a wonderful label and should be supported, this release is very welcome and I would advise you to pick it up.

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Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:27:39

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