This is one of those films which make you want to seek them out based purely on their ridiculous titles. The only things I knew about THE BLIND BEAST Vs THE DWARF before watching it were that it was directed by Teruo Ishii and featured Shinya Tsukamoto in an acting capability, there being very little English language information about the film on the internet at present. I haven't seen all that many of Ishii's films, but the ones I have seen didn't exactly fill me with confidence in the film's likely (lack of) quality. Ishii is a prolific and successful director who started out in the late 50's making sci-fi films for Shin-Toho (the SUPER GIANT films) before rapidly moving into the yakuza/exploitation genre that was becoming so popular in the early-mid 60's. Ishii's Toei flicks were the trashiest of the trashy, and the emphasis was heavily on the exploitation side of the genre. He is perhaps best known in the West for his loose series of 'Tokugawa Joy of Torture' films, as released on VHS by Japan Shock Video in the late 90's (i.e. 1968's THE JOY OF TORTURE, 1969's YAKUZA'S LAW (aka YAKUZA'S PUNISHMENT: LYNCH) and OXEN SPILT TORTURING, plus the latter-day episode from 1995, INFERNO OF TORTURE). He was also responsible for two relatively well-respected horror films, an Edogawa Rampo adaptation called HORROR OF A MALFORMED MAN (1969, for Toei, who subsequently repressed it) and THE BLIND WOMAN'S CURSE (1970, for Nikkatsu) and several Sonny Chiba films (including THE EXECUTIONER (1974)), plus he discovered Ken Takakura. In the early 90's he staged a comeback, producing amongst other things the aforementioned INFERNO OF TORTURE, yet another remake of JIGOKU in 1999 and the film under review in 2001, which he made at the respectable age of 77.
Like his earlier HORROR OF A MALFORMED MAN, the narrative for THE BLIND BEAST Vs THE DWARF (henceforth BBVD) is drawn from a variety of Edogawa Rampo stories. The 'Blind Beast' story is already familiar to Western viewers thanks to Yasuzo Masumura's classic 1969 film BLIND BEAST (aka MOJU), and Ishii's film opens with a scene taken straight from that movie. A young woman called Mizuki Ranko is in a gallery admiring a sculpture. A blind man called Komura starts bothering her and it turns out that she was the model for the sculpture. Meanwhile that same night, a novelist called Ichiyo is wandering in a park when he sees a dwarf carrying something. Intrigued, he follows the dwarfs and sees him drop what appears to be a human limb. We return to Ms Ranko, who, as well as modelling, is the star of the 'Moulin Rouge' stageshow. After the show, she is sent a large bouquet from Komura, and agrees to meet him. When she arrives at his house she is shown to a mirror and told to go through it. She does so and emerges in a nightmarish room, from whose walls protrude various parts of human anatomy (mainly legs, arms and breasts). She faints. A young woman called Yurie meets Ichiyo to ask him for help. She is married to a man 25 years her senior and her daughter-in-law, Michiko, has disappeared. Ichiyo is friends with a well-known detective called Akechi (Shinya Tsukamoto) and Yurie asks him to get Akechi onto the case. Over the next few days, various arms and legs turn up around town, one of which appears to be Michiko's. Helped by Ichiyo, Akechi struggles to reconcile the disappearances of both Michiko and Ms Ranko with the mystery of the body parts and the dwarf
Talk about a convoluted narrative! I had to watch this film twice to get parts of the story straight and even then a fair bit of it doesn't make any sense, not that I suspect Ishii could care less
Effectively, there are two separate narrative strands, one concerning the dwarf and the other the 'blind beast'. Little attempt is made to connect the two and in fact about the only time Ishii acknowledges that the film is telling two completely different stories comes near the end when Ichiyo speculates that "the dwarf and the blind beast were in competition to commit the most murders", a tenuous link to say the least. There is an Agatha Christie style denoument, in which Akechi explains the various mysteries and twists to the assembled suspects, but this is followed by a bizarre final act that is effectively tagged onto the end of the film in order to explain what happens to the blind beast, whose crimes are almost unrelated to the events in the rest of the film.
For me, one of the most interesting things about the film is the fact that Ishii managed to persuade Shinya Tsukamoto to take one of the main roles. Tsukamoto needs no introduction from me I'm sure, but he generally picks his acting roles very carefully, appearing mainly in films by respected 'arty' directors, with the notable exception of small roles in two Takashi Miike films. A major role in a Teruo Ishii film is certainly a departure for him, but he's easily the best thing about the film, hamming it up joyfully. There are also several pop-up appearances by other Japanese directors, including Shion Sono (SUICIDE CLUB (2002)), Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (KICHIKU DAI ENKAI (1997)) and trash auteur Takao Nakano (the EXORSISTER and PLAY GIRLS films). There's also a cameo by Japanese actor/icon Tetsuro Tanba as "Dr Tange, the father of Japanese art".
An interesting comparison could be made between these recent Teruo Ishii films and the latest offerings from Jess Franco. Both men started their long directing careers in the late 50's and both moved into trashy exploitation in the 60's. Both also (presumably) choose to film their latest bizarre works on video. This is unfortunate, as the resulting films look extremely cheap and amateurish and are quite hard to take seriously. If anything, BBVD looks even cheaper than some of Franco's recent films, but luckily it's a good deal more enjoyable, even if the acting is on a par (with the already noted exception of Tsukamoto). There's a little bit of nudity and gore on offer, but less than might be expected. The various body parts strewn so liberally through the film by Ishii all look appallingly fake, and must be some of the rubberiest limbs ever to appear on film. Some of the scenes in the blind beast's 'body parts room' are reasonable effective in creating an atmosphere of depravity, but unfortunately even here the effects just look so cheap (and what's with that weird foam mouth/tongue?!) Obviously, Ishii's inspiration here (apart from the Rampo source novel) is the 1966 José Mojica Marins film THIS NIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE, though Marins' use of his chamber of horrors was considerably more effective and hallucinatory. Oh, and just to return to the Franco connection for a second, a similar room also features in 1973's PLAISIR A TROIS – interesting, no?!
To sum up the film, it's trashy, silly and cheap-looking. It's also fun, mindless entertainment with an amusing Tsukamoto appearance and some unbelievably awful effects. One has to admire Ishii – how many other directors (apart from Franco) have had such prolific careers, plus continued making films into their late 70's? It's certainly piqued my interest in seeing Ishii's JIGOKU remake, if only to see whether the effects and acting in that film are any better