of Malformed Men
Review by John
= Highest Rating
Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida) is a medical student with who finds himself
in an insane asylum. He has a loose grasp on his past but is
haunted by images of a stormy coastline and a menacing bestial
Thus begins Horrors
of Malformed Men, cult director Teruo Ishii's adaptation
of the literary works of Japanese author Edogawa Rampo. The
story follows Hirosuki's character as he escapes from the mental
institution in hopes of unraveling the mystery of his past,
with his fleeting visions and a children's lullaby as his only
clues. He soon discovers the obituary of Mokota Genzaburou,
a recently deceased man of wealth who bears more than a striking
resemblance to Hirosuki. With a promising new lead, he conspires
to take the dead man's place in his household in the hopes that
it may provide information as to his identity.
that's just the start of this complicated, yet oddly compelling
tale. Edogawa Rampo's fantasy and horror stories were very popular
in Japan (the author's real name is Taro Hirai… Rampo is actually
a Japanese rendering of "Edgar Allen Poe"). Teruo
Ishii was so excited to be given a chance at adapting one of
Rampo's works that he took it upon himself to include as many
references and vignettes from the celebrated author's canon
of short stories as he could.
This explains the
frenzied plot... The film feels very much like a book set to
film, packed with weird details and quirky plot twists. Rather
than hurting the narrative it actually adds to its surreal charm.
of Malformed Men is
easily one of the strangest films I've ever seen but it's precisely
the unpredictable nature of the story that is so engaging. Yes,
the story has obvious (and much noted) allusions to H.G. Wells'
The Island of Dr. Moreau, but that doesn't begin to scratch
the surface of this imaginative and twisted tale. By the time
the story reaches its climax, the viewer is bombarded with so
many bizarre revelations and side-stories that it's hard not
to applaud the sheer audacity of the filmmakers. This is an
immensely entertaining film.
Special mention must
be given to the cinematography of Shigeru Akatsuka, which elevates
the movie to levels of visual artistry. The film is beautifully
rendered, with stunning photography and gorgeous use of colors.
Early scenes are effectively moody and atmospheric. As the story
progresses and becomes more nightmarish, the film's visuals
becomes more surreal; flashbacks, for instance, are saturated
in gaudy reds and greens. The film feels very much like what
Dario Argento would eventually achieve visually in such films
as Suspiria and Inferno,
with a wild plot to match.
I cannot shower enough
praise on this film... Horrors
of Malformed Men is
essential viewing and not only for fans of Japanese genre cinema.
This is simply great pulp fiction, wonderfully and vividly realized
by Teruo Ishii.
film has achieved a much deserved cult following throughout the
years, and Synapse gives it a release on DVD befitting its reputation.
HOMM is given
an impressive 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that complements
its extraordinary visual style. The film is presented in its original
Japanese language with optional English subtitles; the Dolby Digital
2.0 Mono soundtrack is clear and without noticeable faults.
There is an excellent audio commentary from
Japanese film expert Mark Schilling who provides a lot of biographical
information of director Teruo Ishii and writer Edogawa Rampo.
Malformed Memories is a 20-minute interview with Japanese
filmmakers Shinya Tsukamoto (which cult film fans will recognize
as the director of the Tetsuo series) and Minoru Kawaski
(director of The Calamari Wrestler).
Both talk fondly of the cinema of Teruo Ishii and reflect upon
the influence his films had on their careers. Ishii in Italia
(14 min.) documents the director's appearance at the 2003 Far
East Film Festival, where a series of his movies were screened
to an appreciative audience. The most interesting tidbit here
is a clip of Ishii introducing HOMM
to the crowd, through the help of a translator. Also included
are a Japanese trailer, text biographies of Ishii and Rampo and
a still gallery of Ishii's theatrical poster artwork for many
of his films.
Rounding out the package is the superb booklet with two lengthy
and comprehensive essays. The first is Freaks in the Head:
For Decades of Malformed Men, by Patrick Macias and Tomo Machiyama,
which chronicles the troubled history of this controversial film.
The second is Jasper Sharp's Edogawa Rampo's World on Film,
which gives information on the screen adaptations of the author.
Finally, Synapse has been generous to include reversible artwork
for the DVD case, which gives the owner the option of choosing
the original theatrical poster artwork.