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Like many cult movie buffs the world over, Iíve been curious about this long-banned Japanese film for years.  Itís inevitable, I guess, that I was disappointed upon finally seeing HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN, which isnít nearly as bizarre or subversive as itís been cracked up to be.  It does have its moments, however! 

The Package 
     HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN (KYOFU KIKEI NINGEN; 1969) was by far the most controversial film ever made by the late Teruo Ishii, one of Japanís most prolific--and notorious--cult auteurs.  The film was vigorously protested upon its initial release, and promptly banned by its own studio Toei for the following three decades.  So maligned was the film that the very mention of its title (which allegedly contains degrading overtones not apparent in the English translation) is considered taboo in Japan.  Of course these days the furor seems puzzling, as itís far from the most offensive of Ishiiís works--Iíd say his aptly titled JOYS OF TORTURE series, made before HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN, outdoes it in most respects.
    Teruo Ishii was reportedly a lifelong fan of the works of Edogawa Rampo, Japanís foremost mystery scribe, and based this film on Rampoís novella THE STRANGE TALE OF PANORAMA ISLAND, along with elements culled from the Rampo tales ďOgre of the Secluded IsleĒ, ďThe Human ChairĒ and ďThe Walker in the AtticĒ.  Other Rampo-based films include THE BLIND BEAST (1968), BLACK LIZARD (1968), THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC (1976), THE MYSTERY OF RAMPO (1995), GEMINI (2000) and BLIND BEAST VS. KILLER DWARF (2001), Teruo Ishiiís final feature.

The Story 
     Hirosuke is a young medical student suffering from bizarre visions involving malformed women and the rocky coast of a far-off island.  He also discovers one day that a man has recently died who looks exactly like him.  In a misguided effort at ferreting out the mystery manís identity, Hirosuke pretends to be his dead doppelganger and moves in with the latterís wife.  She buys into Hirosukeís ruse but is discomfited by his coldness toward her.  Hirosuke for his part is preoccupied with his quest, investigating circus sideshows and eventually a secluded island he recognizes as the landscape of his visions.
     On the island he meets the freakish Jogoro, who lords over a kingdom of human oddities.  In a seaside cave Jogoro reveals to Hirosuke the secret of this freak paradise: years earlier Jogoro caught his wife canoodling with another man and so brought them both to the island, where he let them starve to death in the very cave he and Hirosuke now stand in.  Jogoro further admits that he kidnapped several unsuspecting women from the mainland and surgically transformed them into malformed humans.  And Jogoro discloses yet another secret: years earlier he birthed twins, of whom Hirosuke is one.  There are even more (many more) secrets, but in the interests of keeping this summary to a manageable length Iíll leave them for you to discover on your own. 

The Direction 
     To be frank, Teruo Ishii, despite his cult status, was never a terribly great director.  He had an annoying penchant for overheated melodrama and lurid exploitation, both very much evident in HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN.  Thereís also the fact that he wasnít much of a storyteller, proven here in the way he packs in an unconscionable amount of back story, leading to an overabundance of flashbacks.  The reason for this was apparently Ishiiís desire to include as many Edogawa Rampo-inspired concepts as possible, but the resulting film is a mess narrative-wise.
     Where Ishii excels is in gruesome and surreal imagery.  Often shot through multi-colored filters, Ishiiís visions of malformed humans drifting trance-like (the freaks were portrayed by a real-life dance troop) through cobbled streets wonít ever misplace the work of Jodorowski or Arrabal, but do make for deeply striking, never-before-seen images.  Thereís also an agreeably outrageous bit toward the end in which a loverís dying wish to be reunited with his beloved is granted in a decidedly unexpected manner.  Itís just too bad the film is otherwise such an overplotted jumble. 

Vital Statistics 

Toei Co. 

Director: Teruo Ishii
Screenplay: Teruo Ishii, Masahiro Kakefuda
(Based on stories by Edogawa Rampo)
Cinematography: Shigeru Akatsuka
Cast: Teruo Yoshida, Tatsumi Hijikata, Minoru Ohki, Asao Koike, Yukie Kagawa, Teruko Yumi, Mitsuko Aoi, Mie Hanabusa, Yukie Kagawa, Yumiko Katayama, Katsura Kiyama, Michiko Kobata, Hideo Ko, Masaomi Kondo, Reiko Mikasa, Miki Obana

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