J-Horror Cinema: Human Machines for the MTV Age

Posted by Aspasia Stephanou on October 03, 2010 in Blog tagged with , , , , ,

Following the investigation of the human-machine interface in such cult classics as Shinya Tsukamoto’s cyberpunk films Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992) and stretching into extremes the horror of the violation of bodily boundaries, a series of recent Asian splatter films accommodates all the special needs for the diehard horror/splatter Special FX junkie. Blood, blood, and more blood, and of course weird mutations. The films present transformed bodies that reflect the absence of the body itself. They no longer stand for a whole self but are fragments of a past constantly being reconfigured and changed. The bodies of Tokyo Gore Police become mere fetishes, the part standing for the whole, while identity is forever lost. Women are reduced to animalistic vaginas, their bodies manipulated to deliver the most perverse phallic fantasies. The body is treated as a mere vehicle for someone else’s pleasure. If for Case “the body was meat” (Neuromancer, 12) then here this is an understatement.

Meatball Machine (2005/2007)

Y?dai Yamaguchi’s Meatball Machine presents a world where alien mechanical devices take over the bodies of humans transforming them into NecroBorgs in order to fight each other. While the plot seems simple and insane, the gory metamorphosis of humans into bio-mechanical creatures controlled by an alien homunculus inhabiting their bodies is very effective. Y?ji and Sachico, two lonely humans who come across the alien mechanism are eventually metamorphosed into lethal machines programmed to kill each other. Sachico’s transformation is rendered in a highly sexual and perverted scene where phallic fantasies of penetration of the body by technology are enacted on screen. Cables and metallic extensions embrace the delicate human body while the womb is violently penetrated by a mechanical phallus. Yoshihiro Nishimura’s special effects are characteristic of the sci-fi splatter genre and feature on other horror films such as Tokuo Gore Police, which he has also directed. He was also the co-director of Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl.

These films are obsessed with the nightmares of bodily transformations and they are especially unique in the ways Nishimura manages to paint these images of extreme bloody and unlimited violations.

Tokyo Gore Police (Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2008).

Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police is extremely bizarre, but probably one of the most imaginative films discussed here and generally a good horror film. Humans infected with a virus transform into Engineers whose weapons become extensions of their bodies. But the film depicts a perverse underworld where pleasure is found in the grotesque, surgically- altered bodies of women. Animal-human transformations and the objectification of female bodies are the law of the night. Stitched up mouths and horrific transmutations are an example of a futuristic perverse culture that gets its kicks from silenced and fetishistic bodies.

Nishimura and Tomomatsu’s Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009) is another horror Japanese experiment in bodily fragmentation. Blending two of the gothic’s monsters, the film is set in a Tokyo high school where the vampire Monami seduces Mizushima by giving him a chocolate infused with her blood. While her experiment to transform the boy into a vampire takes place, in the basement a Victor Frankenstein-like scientist is trying to reanimate corpses. The death of his daughter and rival of Monami, leads him to transform her into a monster, a Frankenstein girl who will fight the Vampire girl in order to get her boyfriend Mizushima back. While the film progresses the directors include scenes of other bodily transformations: a girls’ club centres around self harming and the girls gather together in order to perform the most extreme mutilations on their arms, while another small subculture is united by their fetishistic obsession with being black.  The film parodies the subcultures that exist in Japan such as Lolita and Ganguro. Ganguro, which means black face, is a subculture which is characterised by blond or orange hair and tanned skin. The film reveals the Japanese obsession with various bodily transgressions, sometimes in order to mock and at other times just simply to shock. While the subcultures are seen as a way to escape the social constrains of Japanese society and express individuality among young girls, the film ridicules such practices as slavery to imbecilic fashion.

What is interesting in these films, is not only the extreme bloody scenes. And there are many of them. It is the exposure of a Japanese underworld and marginal practices, of a fetishistic culture that constantly finds new ways to experience pleasure, moving closer and closer to horrific bodily violations.

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