Hirosuke Hitomi is a broken man lost within his own mind who escapes from prison to try to uncover his hidden past. Several twists of fate and scattered leads bring him to a small seaside village, where he learns that a man who may have been his exact double recently passed away. Posing as the resurrected body of the dead man, he infiltrates the Komoda family in the hopes of unlocking their secrets, secrets which may help him piece together his own identity. Instead, he is taken to a mysterious island just off the coast, where the crazed head of the family, Jogoro, has been conducting sick experiments on his human captives to create a paradise of malformed men. What Hirosuke will discover about his own connection to the Komoda clan will be more shocking and warped than he could have ever imagined.
Teruo Ishii's stunning film is considered to be one of the most controversial pieces of Japanese cinema ever created, where it continues to remain banned now forty years after its initial release. THE HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN is extremely challenging, both visually and thematically. Like SANTA SANGRE, DARK WATERS, or HOUSE, the arresting images serve to shock and disgust in the most terrifyingly beautiful ways imaginable. With the tragedies of World War II still fresh in mind, it comes as no surprise that Japanese audiences would have baulked at the twisted forms presented on screen, which come as a sad reminder of the real-life horrors that occurred in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The sexually charged overtones implicit in the plot reveal acts of voyeurism, rape, bestiality, and incest, exploring and exploiting every possible societal taboo through Jogoro's sadistic plans. Although the acts are not graphically depicted on screen, Ishii's handling of such explicit material would help to usher in Japan's unique form of sexual violence know as Ero Guro, an artistic sideshow of the erotically-grotesque that would later produce entries such as Komizu's ENTRAILS OF A VIRGIN. There is also an unmistakable similarity between the story structure here and the one found in Park Chan-Wook's critically-acclaimed OLDBOY that cannot be ignored.
Outside of the disturbing sexual deviance that was carried over from Rampo Edogawa's original novel, Ishii has created true horror in his portrayal of the characters and events. The beastly Jogoro played by Michiko Kobata accounts for much of the terror, writhing off of the rocks like a mangled apparition that haunts Hirosuke's shattered memories. His man-made monsters are no less unnerving as they act out his distorted fantasies like emotionless automatons. In one of the film's most notorious scenes, a woman is also forced to eat the crabs off of her dead lover in order to avoid starvation through second-hand cannibalism.
THE HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN is a viewing experience unlike any other, although it is unlikely to be accepted by all audiences. It is an important and influential piece of Japanese cinema, but due to its notorious reputation, some fans are likely to overlook its artistic expression in disappointment over the lack of sensationalism and gore.
If you liked THE HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN, check out:
SANTA SANGRE, HOUSE, OLDBOY, DARK WATERS, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE.