Anyway, onto the film.
"Grotesque" is a 2009 exploitation film by Koji Shirashai. Some would call the film "torture porn" (a term I don't particularly like), but it definitely fits into the same family of films like "Hostel", "The Butcher", and the "Guinea Pig" series of films.
The story is quite minimal. A couple who are on their first date are snatched off the street by a man in a van. When they wake up they find they have been ball gagged and shackled up by a complete madman. They are subjected to physical and sexual abuse and forced to look at each other as these atrocities are inflicted on them for no apparent reason.
As the film goes on, it becomes apparent that the antagonist is quite refined. He wears good clothes, listens to classical music, eats fine foods, and is very proficient in certain medical practices. He is obviously a doctor and fairly wealthy to go with it.
As all this nastiness progresses, the antagonist's motives become clear. He wants to be sexually excited. He wants the couple to survive, but only by displaying a true will to live by enduring the most intense physical pain. He also wants to see someone who is truly prepared to risk their life to save someone they love. To achieve this, he gives the boyfriend a choice. Will he be prepared to risk everything to save his girlfriend and succumb to severe physical torture?
Things get even more extreme from there. I wont delve too much into the plot now because I hate spoilers but the film has everything, and never looks away from the violence depicted. It's pretty extreme, so be prepared for that if your not used to these kinds of films. The film also has a few twists and turns to keep you guessing how it's all going to end up which are all quite good.
I live in the UK, where this film was banned outright. What happens when a film gets banned here? I immediately buy an import copy online! I bought the Tokyo Shock uncut DVD/Blu Ray version from the USA and watched it in all it's HD glory! This is what the BBFC thinks of the film:
"Although was for the most part considered to be a well made film, there is minimal narrative or character development."
"The chief pleasure on offer in viewing GROTESQUE appears to be the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake. The work has minimal narrative or character development and presents the viewer with little more than an unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism."
"After careful consideration, it was judged that to issue a certificate to GROTESQUE, even if statutorily confined to adults, would involve risk of harm within the terms of VRA, would be inconsistent with our Guidelines and would be unacceptable to the public. The BBFC considered whether cutting the work might address the issues but concluded that as the unacceptable material featured throughout, cutting was not a viable option and the work was therefore refused a classification."
"Grotesque is also markedly different to the Saw and Hostel 'torture porn' series, in that those films contain a more developed narrative and there is therefore more contextual justification for the strongest scenes. It is in fact more similar in tone and treatment to a film called NF713, which consisted of a lengthy torture scenario, mostly of a sexual nature, involving a female and a male doctor character. Cuts to NF713 were not regarded as viable and the work was refused a classification certificate in April 2009."
In my opinion, I disagree with the film being banned. I think that there is enough story in the film, and that the eventual motive for the antagonist gives the film as much merit as the "Hostel" and "Saw" films to get a UK distribution. The intent of the films are the same. And if the chief pleasure of "Grotesque" is the spectacle of sadism, then there are many films out there which have received a British release which I could easily throw into the same basket. To go with the dictionary definition of horror - "an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust." - which "Grotesque" has in spades, why do I have to be made to feel like I'm some sort of sick sadist to enjoy these kind of films? I simply watch horror because I enjoy the feeling of being shocked and frightened, but at the same time knowing it's all make believe. Does that make me a psycho? I appreciate the hard work and craftmanship which goes in to the effects and making everything believable. If a horror film doesn't get under my skin or make me feel a certain way, it isn't horror. But it's all subjective, and what isn't scary to me could be terrifying to others.
The director Koji Shiraishi has mostly been a hit or miss director for me. Though he most notably made my favourite J-Horror of all time, "Noroi: The Curse". Another popular film he has directed is "Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman" ("Kuchisake-onna"), a film about a popular Japanese urban legend. Here is what he had to say about the banning of his film in the UK:
"I was happy. Since there was a reaction I was very happy, But of course if it can't be shown, and it can't be released, I'm a little disappointed, but actually that means the movie I've made has the power to cause a controversy, so I'm happy in that way."
"Of course, on the surface it's a violent movie, since I like that kind of stuff and since I'm making the film, I can see beyond that. Some people will only see violence and not the central parts of the story, it's a natural reaction, I accept that."
If you'd like to read the rest of that interview, it can be read here.
In my opinion, I feel like "Grotesque" is a spiritual sequel to the "Guinea Pig" films. In particular "The Devil's Experiment" and "Flower Of Flesh And Blood". It really just deals with the same subject matter in a more fleshed out and violent way, but it really retains the tone and the gut feeling you get when watching those films. Also the scenes of sexual abuse were the hardest scenes to watch for me, just the humiliation of it all was tough to take.
So, would I recommend this film? Yes I would but I would also take that recommendation with caution. It is VERY violent, completely on a different level to the "Hostel" or "Saw" films. If your easily offended by scenes of a sexual nature it's best to avoid it too. But if you have experience watching films like "Martyrs", "A Serbian Film", the "Guinea Pig" series, and things of that nature, jump right in!
Thanks for taking the time to check out and read my blog. Please feel free to leave comments or criticisms below, I'd love to read other people's opinions on this film.