Hisayasu Sato’s nihilistic horror retains the power to shock and revolt more than twenty years after its original release…
While many countries around the world have produced fine examples of extreme and transgressive cinema over the years, Japan has arguably been responsible for some of the most memorable. Though recent splattery comedies such as Tokyo Gore Police, Helldriver and others have made an impact on the international gore scene, a few decades back Japan produced some of the best and most notorious examples of the form, from the infamous Guinea Pig series and the likes of Entrails of a Virgin and Entrails of a Beautiful Woman in the 1980s to the All Night Long and Red Room films in the 1990s.
Providing chilling and nihilistic explorations of the relationship between the human soul and the human body, generally investigated and illustrated through mutilation and/or mutation, the superior films in this subgenre stand out as being intelligent, fascinating and deeply unpleasant, never quite achieving cult status due to the fact that the violence is too extreme for most viewers, and the plots too abstract and soul searching for the average gore-hound. Naked Blood, from Pinku director Hisayasu Sato (the film is a remake of sorts of his 1987 offering Genuine Rape), is possibly the best of these films — harrowing, ponderous, sickening, and yet oddly beautiful at times. It’s a film that is guaranteed to stick in the mind long after viewing; whether you’d actually want it to is another matter entirely.
The plot is fairly minimalist. A young scientist named Eiji (Sadao Abe, Uzumaki) decides to follow in his father’s footsteps to help humanity by developing a drug that converts pain into pleasure. To test it out, he switches his drug, called ‘Myson’, with one in his mother’s fertility clinic. Soon, two of the women are in the thrall of the drug, committing horrible acts of self-mutilation. However, a third girl, Rika (Misa Aika, Weatherwoman 2) seems unaffected, and Eiji begins spying on her in an attempt to find out why.
There is simply no way Naked Blood could be considered a straightforward splatter film. In fact, the gore doesn’t really start until two-thirds of the way through the scant 77-minute running time, by which time those who are only interested in viscera will probably have been put to sleep. The rest of the film is concerned with exploring Hisayasu Sato’s obsession with the darker characteristics of the human spirit. In the cases of the two girls who spiral into gory self-destruction, this plays out as an intense disgust with the base superficiality of human needs and weaknesses. Although their two characters are quite obviously designed to be symbolic as opposed to realistically written human beings, the fact that they have any kind of identifiable personality at all gives their awful fates a real impact on the viewer.
The film’s main interest is with the essential loneliness that is at the core of our being, and as such Naked Blood is exceptionally bleak and nihilistic. Sato has a clinical, almost surgical approach to the subject matter and the characters, framing the film as if he were less a director and more a doctor performing an autopsy on the human condition. It is quite depressing, but also fascinating, and his direction recalls the early work of Cronenberg as well as his fellow countryman Shinya Tsukamoto. The film is quite slowly paced, and definitely falls under the art-house banner, being quite abstract and obtuse in places – this is probably the only film ever made that illustrates loneliness through the use of a cactus plant wearing a virtual reality helmet.
Having said all of this, the gore is still probably the film’s main draw, and on that scale it scores incredibly high, being sure to satisfy or repulse, depending on your reasons for watching. The effects are quite incredible, achieving a seldom seen, or indeed wanted, level of realism, and are genuinely stomach-churning, really pushing out the body horror boat. This is not to suggest that they are gratuitous, as Sato quite obviously includes them to make a point rather than simply to shock, and they work well in reflecting the film’s themes. Though over the top, the gore never becomes comical splatter, Sato showing a real talent for maximising the impact of these scenes and a disturbing knack for knowing exactly where to stick the knife to extract the maximum revulsion from the viewer – one long sequence where a girl performs a sickening, joyous act of self-consumption is really quite unlike anything in extreme cinema.
Overall, it is hard to know whether to recommend Naked Blood or not, and the fact that I’m rating it so highly is not necessarily to suggest that the average viewer should even think about watching. For fans of transgressive films and Japanese gore, however, this is probably the genre’s highpoint. Well directed, tackling some fascinating, if bleak themes, and with far more effective and shocking scenes of gore than almost any other film, Naked Blood packs an incredible punch that will not be easily forgotten.