Splatter: Naked Blood Review
Over the past twenty years director Hisayasu Sato has carved himself quite a reputation, having made over a staggering fifty movies, primarily adult flicks, many of which contain the word “rape” in the title and fit quite snugly into the “Pinku” genre. You’d likely be forgiven then for assuming the worst. Sato started to break away from the traditional mould during the mid-nineties, where he then concentrated on straight to video productions which began to show stylised expressions on social studies. Naked Blood was amongst the last of those; released in 1996, before the director took a leave of absence for almost ten years.
The story follows a seventeen year old scientist by the name of Eiji (Sadao Abe), who has created a serum after researching brain secretion, which he hopes to market as a highly effective painkiller. Naming it “My Son” he believes it to be the perfect drug that’s bound to solve a lot of people’s problems. But his faith in the product is blind at this stage and he knows that it must be tested. His mother (Masumi Nakao) is also a scientist who is working on a newly developed contraceptive drug, with which she hopes to stamp out the increase in Japan’s rapidly escalating population. Eiji manages to visit her workplace and sneak “My Son” into her trial serum. This is being administered to three volunteering women, one of whom, an insomniac named Rika (Misa Aika) captures his affection. As soon as the trial is underway Eiji begins to document all three of his unknowing subjects through his camera lens, soon discovering the potency of his drug. His aim is to live up to his father’s expectations and place his name on the scientific map, but he’s about to find out that his actions are causing more damage than good.
“Splatter” has always been a morbidly fascinating sub-genre, designed to appease hardcore gore hounds, who simply don’t get enough out of mainstream horror cinema. For all intents its main objective is to present a series of lurid acts that get progressively shocking and degrading, providing very little by way of narrative. But they usually share a common theme: by obsessively depicting the fragility of the human body. Whether or not we’re meant to question any deeper motives is perhaps neither here nor there and it’s unlikely that many of these films are meant to be seen in such a frame of mind. But there’s something in particular about Japanese splatter movies, or just exploitation cinema in general, that makes their presence somewhat psychologically adept. Even some of the late eighties Guinea Pig entries weren’t without merit, such as Hideshi Hino’s Mermaid in a Manhole and to a similar degree the darkly comic He Never Dies. In the early part of the nineties Katsuya Matsumura put out his All Night Long series. Clearly the intent was to create a relevant commentary on the types of violence he chose to depict. The films were quite well produced, aesthetically that is, but they weren’t exactly prime examples of how to do things properly in equal measure. Overall, these two series in question remain largely hit and miss, being morally ambiguous for the most part, despite attempts to not adhere to the strictest conventions. But when we get right down to it these films sell because of their content, much in the same way that Sato’s similarly pitched Naked Blood will. However, no matter how over the top it all may seem, we’re looking at something that presents itself with a purpose that’s not entirely blanketed by its visceral imagery.
What makes Naked Blood interesting is that even with a run time shy of eighty minutes it packs in a fair deal of content. It presents a decent narrative that somehow gets by, despite becoming shrouded by many social fibres, not to mention its highly touted violence. As the main storyline progresses - which deals with a family trying to live up to expectations - Hisayasu Sato places several ingredients in succession in an attempt to reach his higher motives. While these aren’t particularly forced upon on you’d have to be pretty naïve to not pick up on what he’s doing. In the space of sixty minutes he manages to challenge taboo areas and encompass what’s wrong with just about every aspect of society: obsessions with beauty vs. consumption, vanity, self loathing, technology and its affects on nature, voyeurism, mass-communication, cultural divides, alienation, population concerns and explorations on pain and pleasure. And he does all of this by presenting various symbolic and ominous gestures through his keen use of mixed mediums, which grants the film an organic sense of realism. In many respects its quite documentarian in approach but of course it can’t go into any great detail, merely highlighting the problems at hand. However - Sato is far too keen and in light of this his ideas would perhaps be better served if he broke them down a little and took a step back for a moment, rather than try to kill ten birds with one stone.
Bearing that in mind one would think “How does all of this fit in with horror/splatter?” That’s all part of the trick. Sato doesn’t overly concern himself with trying to pad out his feature by inserting disturbing acts from the get go. He methodically sets the tone and builds up a steady pace, slowly reeling the viewer in for the ultimate shock exchange. It’s a question of give and take; the rewards, as they were, come at a price and that is to take stock of everything that the director wishes to convey first and foremost. With all that Sato has to say it’s clear that the man wishes to sincerely express himself and highlight problematic issues that have always been present and never seem to improve in our silly little world. Cleverly and perhaps frustratingly for those who just want a quick gore fix he illustrates his point well, and at great length, before finally succumbing to the extreme. And Naked Blood surely is extreme when it wants to be. Self mutilation and consumption drives the bulk of his horrific visuals, and impressively so. Much like the series’ mentioned earlier there’s a disturbing reality to the way in which violence is depicted on screen, made all the more concerning when the director lingers over his material, and thanks to Yuuichi Matsui, the man responsible for later Miike works such as Full Metal Yakuza, Audition and Ichi the Killer, they are considerably detailed. His scenes, while shocking, tend to occasionally fall back on the humorous - an intent I don’t suppose was entirely deliberate, but despite that there’s a certain amount of cleverness in their revealing. While Naked Blood delivers what it promises it’s just not typical enough to meet certain preconceptions.
Notably Naked Blood was Sadao Abe’s first major film; an actor who has since gone on to enjoy success in high profile productions such as Uzumaki, TV drama Kisarazu Cats Eye, Yaji and Kita and Yokai Daisenso. He’s not too bad in playing a scientist who is younger than his actual years; a role far from the comedic types he embodied later, bar one or two slight incidents, while Misa Aika who only enjoyed a brief extension of her acting career in the sequel to 1996’s Weather Woman provides ample enough support. Perhaps most interestingly is the appearance of adult movie star Yumika Hayashi, who sadly and mysteriously died in 2005. I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing her in All Night Long 3 and Shinji Imaoka’s Lunch Box [Tamamono], but she struck me as being a good actress whose life was extinguished far too early. Sato ends up requiring a lot from his performers, who are given more to do than meets the eye. The director begins to blur realities, leaving us to question if what we’re witnessing is real or not; Rika and her deep virtual sleeps and one or two twists that may suggest that particular characters aren’t quite what they seem. Overall his cast manages to hide their respective character’s motives quite well, giving us more in the way of ambiguous behavioural patterns than we might have expected otherwise.
2006 has been a good year for Hisayasu Sato on DVD in the west. Arts Magic issued three of his features and Genius Products Inc quickly licensed 2005’s Rampo Noir, of which he directed the segment “Caterpillar”. Now Discotek get in on the act with Naked Blood.
Naked Blood is given an interlaced 1.85:1 non-anamorphic treatment. It won’t shock you to learn that the flick doesn’t look that great; it’s heavily filtered and showcases a lot of inherent source problems, such as noisy vertical lines softness and halos. Colour levels are fairly good, obviously having been tinkered with by Sato to achieve the right balance, and black levels and contrast very from scene to scene; at times being deep and natural and others being boosted and lacking depth. There’s also dot crawl, which is mostly visible on text, as well as aliasing.
Japanese 2.0 Stereo is the only sound option, and it’s relatively solid. Dialogue is fine, though slightly out of sync at times and emphasis is greatly placed on the latter stages of the film, when the torturous acts begin to play out, where they deliver an effectively gruesome ambiance.
Optional English subtitles are included and put across a good translation, with no timing or grammatical errors.
Not a great deal to be had here: a gallery consisting of ten colour stills, two pages on Hisayasu Sato as a film maker, a director’s filmography and trailers for five other Discotek releases.
I wouldn’t say that Naked Blood was particularly entertaining per se, but it is a film that’s sincere enough to make a clear point, even if it becomes a little tangled in itself and includes large portions focusing on some gruesome acts of self violation. Hisayasu Sato is an acquired taste though and this 1996 effort can only offer so much, and more than likely won’t be calling viewers back for seconds. By large it’s a down and miserable film, but a curiosity that deserves to be seen nonetheless.