Bathed in Blood
Director Koji Shiraishi’s torture-porn flick Grotesque gets banned in Britain—and ignites a debate about Japan’s splatter-film boom
By: Sarah Cortina | Sep 24, 2009 | 9 Comments | 27,432 views
Photo by Benjamin Parks

Photo by Benjamin Parks

Born and raised in Fukuoka, Shiraishi grew up watching movies like Jaws, Ghostbusters and The Terminator, developing a passion for the supernatural and occult elements he saw in these spectacles. Yet instead of dreaming to become a director, he says his first interest was special effects and makeup.

“It was only later, when I began to recognize that a movie with great special effects can still be a bad movie, that I started thinking about creating a whole film myself,” the director tells Metropolis in an interview at his Shinjuku office.

Shiraishi began making his own independent films while still in college, but his first big break came in 1994, when he joined the crew of renowned director Sogo Ishii’s Mizu no Naka no Hachigatsu (“August in the Water”). Moving to Tokyo in 1997, he honed his skills and eventually was awarded the runner-up prize at the 1999 Pia Film Festival for Kaze wa Fuku Darou (“The Wind Will Blow”). The movie, a screwball comedy about a luckless young man trying to figure out where his last relationship went wrong, showcased the faux-documentary style that was to become Shiraishi’s signature technique.

The young director supported himself with various arubaito, including a stint making “shinrei videos,” in which filmmakers go through haunted houses and abandoned buildings in the hopes of catching spiritual phenomena on film. Unglamorous as that job may have been, it proved useful in bringing Shiraishi to the notice of producers. Industry folk at the time were already regarding him as a specialist in occult films, and he was hired on for projects like Ju-Rei (“The Uncanny”) and Shinin Shojo (“Dead Girl Walking”).

Shiraishi’s first feature to gain wide attention was 2005’s Noroi (“The Curse”), which toed the line between fiction and reality so cleverly that many hailed it as the “Japanese Blair Witch Project.” His next work, Kuchisake Onna (“Carved”) in 2007, was based on a popular urban legend about the ghost of a vengeful woman who gets her kicks slicing open faces. Shiraishi drew on his early interest in special-effects makeup to design a buzz-creating “split-faced” look for star Miki Mizuno.

Though his early films all fall firmly within the horror genre, most possess a subtle creepiness that is far removed from the overt brutality displayed in Grotesque. So what drove Shiraishi to make a movie that is in many ways a great departure from his previous works?

“With most of my feature films, a producer will approach me with a specific request,” he explains. “For Grotesque, I was asked to make something so graphic it couldn’t be shown in theaters. And so I went all out.”

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  • clearsky54

    The idea that this man made this sick movie, and that Metropolis is giving him credence by featuring him in such a way, along with posting sick, disgusting pictures from the film is deeply disturbing. What is the benefit of a film like this? To cater to sick freaks? Are we supposed to think it’s funny that there is a picture of this horrible man with a bloody knife held up to his mouth? Is it all a big joke? Is blood splattered all over everything, organs hanging out, people slowly dying — is this “entertainment”? After all these years of my supporting Metropolis, I can no longer do so. It’s a sad day when people who make films that have no other purpose than to show how low human beings can go get as much attention as this piece of garbage. When I need to line my birdcage, Metropolis will now finally be put to some good use.

  • clearsky54

    I’m going to post a second comment. My “comment” is awaiting “moderation”? Uh huh. Did anybody “moderate” the horrific pictures of the young actress splattered with blood before they posted them here? I hope that no one that you’ve ever met ever is killed in a horrific way or that you never have to face the reality of seeing people hurt, maimed or killed in the way that this magazine has casually splashed (no pun intended) across its pages, as if it’s just another quirky story on the weird nutty artists that populate Tokyo. The best thing your magazine could do is to delete this story and offer something of value to your readers. This was a new low in Metropolis’s history.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/jameshadfield/ James Hadfield

    What is the benefit of a film like this? To cater to sick freaks? Are we supposed to think it’s funny that there is a picture of this horrible man with a bloody knife held up to his mouth? Is it all a big joke? Is blood splattered all over everything, organs hanging out, people slowly dying — is this “entertainment”?

    I think you’ll find that the article poses a lot of the same questions. It’s very unusual for a film like this to be banned, and the fact that it was made international headlines–hence our decision to cover Shiraishi (and the “splatter film” phenomenon) in the magazine.

    For the record, though, I agree that back issues of Metropolis do make an excellent lining for birdcages.

  • onjenu

    I have no interest in seeing this film or anything like it – but rather than causing violent acts, I believe such films (and video games) exist because they represent some kind of reality.

    What I find more disturbing is the mass marketing of violence on American television, such as the CSI franchise series. I believe that it represents something deeply troubling about what Americans are interested in — as common place entertainment. Not that it is going to cause violence necessarily, but rather, I think it reveals a disconnect. Because they (the viewer) isn’t the tv victim, they can somehow feel safer in an unpredictable world. Inevitably, the victim has done something wrong–a choice, a place, a time. The apparent randomness of the victim’s fate reflects the fears that people have – of themselves being violently attacked – and that’s why it’s on prime time. They want to tell themselves that it’s not them, they wouldn’t have opened that door…but it’s fundamentally unhealthy, still. I suspect that “splatter” films have a similar appeal + some kind of fetishization. Anyway, I will not be watching any of this stuff.

  • http://metropolis.co.jp/community/members/metropolismedia/ Xippy – Metropolis Media

    To ClearSky:

    I have no vested interest in the splatter genre. I love horror, but I have no desire to ever see a torture porn film ever. However, your post struck a bit of a chord when I read it. I’m worried that your solution to the problem of indecency is the wrong solution. I think it’s fair for you to actively boycott the director’s body of work and even the distribution company that got it out the door and into stores. However, I don’t think it’s fair for you to boycott Metropolis for discussing his work. It’s a well written article that focused much more on the (debatable) cultural relevance and impact of that particular film and the genre than it did on glorification.

    One of the core points of the article was that these films slide into obscurity unless people get in a vocal tizzy and start condemning the film and anyone associated with it. Once that happens, suddenly the film is getting massive exposure from the people who are insisting that the film should get no exposure.

    And, just so you know, I’m not against you regarding these films. I think the whole genre is worthless trash. But, that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t talk about whether or not the genre is trash.

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