Blind Beast

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Aki Shima (Mako Midori), a model specializing in bondage portraits, is kidnapped by the blind “amateur” sculptor Michio Sofu (Eiji Funakoshi) and his mother (Noriko Sengoku) to serve as the artist’s muse and sexual object. Blind Beast (1969), director Yasuzo Masumura’s adaptation of a novel by Edogawa Ranpo, is a study of the psychological deterioration of a captive rather than a mystery narrative. After the opening of the film, the setting is exclusively Sofu’s studio, though it might as well be the inside of his mind.

When Aki first awakens to find herself in Sofu’s studio Masumura’s camera follows the captive model as she explores the surreal space. Aki will run through darkness until she collides with one of Sofu’s sculptures which Masumura lights suddenly to startling effect. First Aki encounters a wall of gigantic eyes, then a wall of noses, followed by a wall of arms and finally a pair of humongous female torsos reminiscent of Jean-Claude Forest’s illustrations (one facing down and one facing up). It’s a terrifying way to explore this space that calls to mind the opening of The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T (1953) as well as the dream sequence in Spellbound (1945).

Sofu’s studio is a world of interiority. Every development in the plot is somehow reflected in the space itself. The narrative structure of the film, which follows the familiar narrative of a female victim experiencing Stockholm Syndrome, functions as a complex of physically rendered exchanges. For instance, not long after Aki is taken to the studio Sofu’s mother dies in an accident during a fight. In this moment Aki and Sofu complete the process of exchanging the mother figure for that of the lover, thus signifying Sofu’s sudden and violent arrival at adulthood.

In the same manner in which Sofu’s mother is subtracted from the space of the studio (and replaced by a mound of dirt), so to is light gradually removed from the set as Aki herself becomes blind. In the moment that Sofu forcibly takes Aki’s body sexually he begins to transform her into another extension of his own psyche. Likewise, as Aki begins to submit to Sofu in the following scenes his artwork is featured less prominently in frame. The gradually enveloping darkness is Masumura signaling and reiterating the physical experiences of his two blind leads. As light slips away the characters descend further and further into BDSM until they reach the moment of blood play and mutilation. The characters rationalize this descent as an exploration of physical experience that can only logically end in death.

At the start of Blind Beast the condition of blindness is depicted as a kind of uncanny otherness. Funakoshi makes a number of broad and very creepy choices in how he acts out Sofu’s blindness that suggests that the condition is a disability and that his character is not of the world of the seeing. However, back in his studio, the creepy campiness of his performance is exchanged for one of a more nuanced nature. In his studio blindness is not a disability, it is the only way of life and one that Sofu considers superior. Aki’s blindness is not once treated as a disability as it occurs exclusively within Sofu’s studio. In her voice-over Aki articulates how liberating blindness is as it pushes her further and further into other sensory experiences that she calls “primeval”.

But Blind Beast is not a film of empowerment. It is a film that studies sadomasochism, fetishization, and the human body. Masumura created one of his most stylistically unique films with Blind Beast; yet the concepts at the heart of the film speak to a popular trend in thrillers made during the sixties that have their roots in Psycho (1960) and Peeping Tom (1960). In the same year that Masumura made Blind Beast, Piero Schivazappa made his own highly stylized Stockholm Syndrome picture The Laughing Woman (1969). Both of these films are visually remarkable works but differ in terms of how they depict the outcomes of their sister narratives. Unlike Schivazappa, Masumura could see no escape for his female protagonist other than death.