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 | 30,428 views


Grotesque is situated at the extreme end of the spectrum of “splatter” films, a subgenre that most people associate with horror. Yet within the splatter community, there is debate about the role these films play within the broader context of Japanese cinema.

“I actually consider splatter and horror to be completely different things,” says Yoshihiro Nishimura, director of such graphically violent movies as Tokyo Gore Police. “The films I try to create are so over-the-top and unrealistic, they really become comedy.”

Akira Yamaguchi, producer of similarly themed works like Robo Geisha, believes that there is a place for both types of films. “Comedies and dramas are very reflective of the culture, so it’s difficult to make something that will resonate across the world. With horror and splatter, the visual component plays a very important role, so it’s a form of entertainment that’s easy to understand.”

Yet for UK film critic Jasper Sharp, the increasing popularity of splatter films is a significant roadblock in the efforts to promote “quality” Japanese cinema abroad.

“Horror is a global community, with hundreds of dedicated fans, magazines, websites, video outlets, film festivals, etc.,” he says in an email to Metropolis. “To take one example, London FrightFest screened the kitsch Japanese splatter comedy Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl recently. Like all the films at the festival, from all countries, it would have packed out the venue, and therefore been seen by about 1,200 people in a single sitting… I’d be amazed if even Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata, one of the most highly regarded titles of last year, sold this many tickets in total during its entire UK run.”

As the Grotesque controversy shows, notoriety is easy to come by for splatter films. Whether that’s a good thing for Japanese cinema as a whole is a different matter.

“It wasn’t a very large-scale movie, so this incident was very effective publicity,” says Yamaguchi. “But I don’t think making snuff-style films like that will actually attract any new fans.”

“The horror fanboy community is always looking for the next big thing, the film that goes that one step further, and the Japanese have a reputation for this after the Guinea Pig films,” says Sharp, referring to a controversial series of fake ’80s “snuff” films that were so realistic that actor Charlie Sheen reported one to the FBI, believing it to be footage of an actual murder. The series gained even more notoriety when the movies were found among the collection of “otaku” serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, who murdered four young girls in Saitama in the late-’80s.

The reference is apt, especially in the case of Grotesque. “I was really trying to make a movie that would be a modern-day Guinea Pig,” Shiraishi explains. “When Grotesque was released in Japan, I was kind of disappointed there wasn’t a more violent response. So when the film got such a reaction in Britain, I was actually happy about it.”

The weeks since news of the ban broke have seen a flurry of media attention both at home and abroad—including a decision by Amazon Japan to remove the DVD from its site. The official Grotesque webpage triumphantly proclaims both bits of news, and provides a link to an alternative online seller of the unrated DVD.

Although he’s appreciative of the notoriety gained by the controversy, Shiraishi says he is firmly against censorship.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he says. “I didn’t make a movie telling people to go out and commit murder. If somebody decides to kill another person, it is their responsibility.”

The director also disagrees with critics who decry the lack of morality in Grotesque—especially the ending, which leaves the victims dead and the killer stalking his next target.

“Japan is such a peaceful society. I think people take their lives for granted, and this causes feelings of boredom and ennui. The criminal in Grotesque was just searching for some emotion to break out of that stasis, and there’s value in that. I didn’t punish him because in a movie there’s no need to; there’s no need to try and conform to the values of society.”

Director Nishimura also feels that the media’s reaction was out of line. “Ever since [the Miyazaki case], every time there’s a bizarre murder in Japan, everyone makes a big deal about what DVDs and movies were found in the killer’s room,” he says. “In Japan, there’s still a very poor understanding of horror and splatter. They refuse to see it as simple entertainment.”

Sharp agrees, although he adds that he has no intention of ever watching Grotesque. “The main point here is, it is not for the BBFC to judge a film on artistic merits… The examiners here have tried to second-guess the motives of the filmmakers, rather than really looking at what’s on screen, and if films like Hostel or the Saw series are acceptable, then I don’t see why Grotesque shouldn’t be.”



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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.

  • jameshadfield

    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.

  • MetropolisMedia

    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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