Urotsukidoji: No Shame, No Gain
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
It's funny that we all have our little obsessions. Funnier still is how they come and go. For some it's romance novels, others it's the latest HBO show and for the worst of us its the gym. But it doesn't really mean anything does it? What does it say about you as a person? It's your outlet. Right now, mine is controversial cinema.
Not subjective controversial cinema. Controversial cinema that earned it's reputation for all the wrong (or right) reasons. Banned cinema that's gradually clawing it's way out of vaults and taking it's first rancid breaths of fresh air. Seedy trash that has circulated the ashamed fans film collections for years, hidden from familiar company. I need shocking. Why is this? Because when I feel a little bit stressed, I need scandal. And not the Married at First Sight kind. I like seeing humans being despicable. I like seeing filmmakers push the boundaries of what is acceptable. Best of all, I like to see shocking things made well.
At least these filmmakers had the guts to do it.
None more so than Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend (Takayama, 1989). Of all the hentai that made it's way over here, this was the first to really shock the western world. I mean where Akira (Otomo, 1988) - totally pumped for the upcoming cinema release by the way, worth exposure to the public for a 4K remaster of this beast - and Hayao Miyazaki had proven how significant Anime and Manga could be, you had a film like this appear and taint the very name to this day. But they still made it. Was it just as controversial in Japan? Although perverted, was it as surprising to them? Hokasai, he infamous Floating World artist's most famous painting is a woman and her Squid lover... it's not new territory. In fact were they more upfront? I wonder.
We're all a bunch of perverts right. It's in the human make up. Be it curiosity in the neighbours business, in your family scandals or the latest headline debauchery. We love gossip. And that is pretty twisted. What does gossip provide us? The pleasure of information, however possibly inaccurate it could be, and the the story. I'm not justifying tentacle brutalisation, monstrous sized *mmhmms* and orgiastic demon murder. I'm just saying, we gotta chill.
Not gonna lie though, I was disappointed in my viewing of the film. Only for the subpar Manga Entertainment release that is now some years old. It used the heavily edited theatrical release of the film and therefore is censored; I hate censorship. I believe in seeing the product in it's wholeness and for myself to draw a conclusion on my own on whether or not I deem it despicable. Legend of the Overfiend is notorious for any Anime and Japanese film lover so it's a must see. But when censored, what shocked so many before us is eradicated. Not to mention undermined by that dreadful dub with no sub on offer.
Not that with those scenes in place will it improve the weak story, weaker characters and ridiculous premise. The human hero is a dirty pervert. Everyone is getting some.
Meanwhile, a prophesised demon is supposed to awaken from the body of human and unite the three realms only for it not to be as planned and a bunch of perverted demons are inciting more issues. I don't know.
But the gall of the studio, of the manga artist to produce something like this. To think that there were people out there that had to animate this twisted tale from the mind of one guy, and in some scenes animate it really well. To think it's a franchise currently making millions. It's baffling in the west that something like that can be so mainstream. In Japan it's not uncommon that some of the biggest award winning directors got their start directing their infamous Pink films.
There are a lot of topics that aren't okay in Japan, even under Japanese opinion (Boku no Pico is hated by all), but what is it about the outrageously creative extremes of their perversion that is so damn fascinating? It is the contrast to our Western culture. It is their interest in moral ambiguity. It's the isolated history that allowed them to develop such a strict and rigourous social decorum up until the mid-1800's. There are so many factors that are gagging to be examined.
The contradictions are simply fascinating and more outwardly extreme than in the West. It would only be fair as to explore it and hold it up against the rest of the world and prove that it's a one size fits all, even if the outward design is a little different. Such a beautiful country, culture and history carries so many deeply imbedded understandings that really do feel foreign to us. So do we judge it by our perspective or in it's context? At least Legend of the Overfiend is animated. A Serbian Film (Spasojevic, 2010) had real actors do gross stuff (even if fake) and try and pass it off as political commentary.
As a storyteller, I found Urotsukidoji to be dreadful in almost all ways. It's stupid and grotesque. But one must acknowledge that is was made with no plot in mind. It was for some niche fetishism unusual to us. It, like The Room (Wiseau, 2003), is watched today for the laughs and the cultural significance. It's to tick a box and roll your eyes at. I expected nothing more from it. Yet it still had me thinking. That is why it is still relevant today despite it's controversy, despite it's garishness, despite it's flaws. It's not high art; it's not trying to tell us a thing about anything other than how many tentacles one human body can take. A lot by the looks of things.
Don't take your Nan to see this. Share it with the right friends; have a laugh, enjoy the culture, take in the chaos and stupidity of the underwhelming early years of dub. Enjoy it for what it is. I did. The I moved on to the next shocking film. I'm working my way down into the fiery pits of hell, just how I like it. I just love banned cinema
What am I talking about today? Once again, who knows. It's all mental diarrhea at this point. I suppose I'm thinking a lot about taboo subjects and the significance of them in their native countries. Having re-watched Love Exposure and faced Legend of the Overfiend, I'm seriously considering the eastern perspective such topics; religion, perversion, sex and violence. I think that will be my next article; Faith in Japanese Pop culture.
This post today is just proof that I am thinking about a lot of topics right now. I keep reading and working on some of my outside projects so kind of ran out of time to really put anything together. More so, it's a post to discipline me to put something out there. Whilst I work on my new piece, I intend to share some more recommends; favourite directors, more Japanese films to look out for and all that jazz. Thanks for tolerating.
Screenshots from Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend. (1989). Directed by Hideki Takayama. [DVD]. UK: Manga Entertainment