Genre: Horror / Surreal
Running Time: 104'
Director: Kei Fujiwara
Cast: Kei Fujiwara, Kimihiko Hasegawa, Kenji Nasa, Tojima Shozo
GHOUL RATING: **(*)
Story: Story? What story? The film's title refers to the part of the psyche residing in the unconscious that is the source of instinctive impulses that seek satisfaction in accordance with the pleasure principle and are modified by the ego and the superego (in those of us that have such subtle super-structures!). Now, that's a perfect alibi to throw away any linear storytelling, logic, motivation, characterization and the like down the drain and indulge in the succession of irrational imagery which may or may not be linked with perverted sexuality, voyeurism, rape, cross-dressing, masturbation and… mutation into giant pig-men? Some of the highlights include: the giant retard with pigtails, dressed like a schoolgirl; a 20-something playing the 9-year old boy; a transvestite whose attempted rape ends in beating after his 'unexpected parts' are discovered; a rather convincing-looking 'taking a crap' scene; a face peeled off; a giant bloody vagina-like orifice in a woman's belly; more bloodied and mutilated corpses than you can count and more male asses than you'd care to see; men masturbating with spring-rods instead of their fleshy members; and so on.
Review: "I wanted to describe the agony of a wounded soul of someone decaying from the inside." This is how Kei Fujiwara described ORGAN (1996), her debut feature. This description could also be applied to ID, her (only) second film in ten years. Transgressive and shocking imagery abounds here, as well, but there is a new element added: the idea of redemption. ID is about a tortured soul looking for salvation. That's why the film opens and closes with invocations to Amida Buddha, the savior of all who invoke him (not only the righteous, but the sinful as well).
Yes, ID is the second part in the trilogy announced on the ORGAN disc, in the feature with preview scenes from (what was then called) 'Organ 2'. Sadly, it's not included on the ID disc, although that feature shows off some shots that ended in ID, together with a lot of alternate takes on the existing scenes, and the stuff that's not in ID at all. From Fujiwara's rambling comments there one can see how much ID changed (for the better) until its final phase. One can assume that ORGAN was fully devoted to the hellish misery of existence, summed up in the line: "This world is Hell!" while ID seems to be depicting a purgatory, with a promise of light. It would be interesting to see the third film and Fujiwara's vision of Heaven. I wonder if there would be as much blood, piss, vomit, and all-around degeneration as in her first two films.
To call ID bleak would be a major understatement. I cannot think of an author with an equally dark vision. Men are described as "breathing masses of flesh", compared to "pigs born for the sake of being eaten", completely governed by their biology (eating, pissing, shitting, f**king…). The original Buddhist view of life is bleak in itself (this life is illusion, physical existence is pain, salvation is only in getting out from Samsara, the cycle of rebirth…). In Fujiwara's films the Buddhist vision is merged with Freud's anthropological pessimism, presenting people not only hopelessly entangled in their messy biological functions, but also irreparably damaged by their childhood traumas. To be born is hell. Yet, as the final lines remind us, "even this form of existence struggles to return to the light."
In such a world, memory is a burden; the selected few amnesiacs should pray never to remember. Ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is pain. These are the views that few would share, or even be ready to humour for a while, for the duration of the film at least. But, you knew what to expect, right? Those who have seen ORGAN (which is a MUST for any shock-cinema fan!) know that Kei Fujiwara takes no prisoners. The extremeness of her vision, and of modes of its expression, overshadow both Miike and Tsukamoto, in whose TETSUO she played the female lead and was a DP, too! Even within the standards of modern Japanese film's storytelling, notorious for its ellipses, murky plotting, entangled sub-plots, twists out-of-the-left-field and esoteric, head-scratching endings, ID remains the pinnacle of disregard for even the most basic linear plotting and conventional logic. Be prepared to 'not get' this film on the first viewing. A lot of viewers might not even finish it, let alone desire a second (or third) serving of the outrageously weird, spicy dish.
ID's shot in grainy 16mm, and the cinematography is deliberately murky and plain, with very little colored lighting or other stylization. The sets are cheap and ugly: mostly shot in poor workers' sheds and tool shops, with the pig-farm providing the visual (and aural) background. The acting is amateurish. Most of these people are not professional actors, and majority of them do not have anything else listed on imdb. Those that have are mostly those who also appeared in ORGAN (although there is no apparent connection between their roles here and there). Too much over-acting may have worked in Fujiwara's 'Organ Vital' theatre, but in the film it tends to be jarring. The music is poorer than in ORGAN: for a better part it consists of an irritating endless loop. Nothing like the memorable theme from the 'caterpillar scene', and, for that matter, there is no set-piece in ID to match the greatness of the larval rebirth from ORGAN. The make-up effects are shoddy, especially the appliances in the climax having to do with the giant pig-men (it sounds better than it looks!). Still, the gore effects are plentiful and quite convincing.
Frankly, ID is a film easier to respect than to actually like, or enjoy. While ORGAN did possess a certain level of coherent plot (jumbled with the flash-forwards, flash-backs, visions, dreams, hallucinations, ellipses for the sake of ellipses, etc.), ID discards any semblance of sense and dives deep into its author's obsessions and traumas completely disregarding if anyone else would want (or be able) to follow. Such extremism is both commendable and frustrating. The film is obviously a personal affair (perhaps a kind of self-therapy?), and the devotion and energy invested are to be respected. In an age of 'let's cash in on the most recent trend', in an age governed by 'yet another long-haired vengeful ghost' flicks, ID is blissfully non-commercial. There's no pandering to audience expectations. There's no 'let's add an unnecessary romance sub-plot to appeal to the teenagers' attitude. There's no 'let's cut down the bloodshed so we can sell it to TV'. With all its strengths and weaknesses, ID is a rare remnant of auteur cinema in the strictest (and some would add: most self-indulgent) sense of the phrase.
All in all, this is a film for those who thought that ORGAN was too mainstream and that it did not go far enough. ID goes all the way but, will you follow?
DVD [NTSC, Region 1] : Media Blasters (under their Tokyo Shock label) should be praised for buying and offering to the English-speaking world this decidedly offbeat title. The image is full screen, 1.33:1 (that's how it was filmed) with all the expected murkiness and graininess one must expect from a film shot on 16mm film. This is probably the best it'll ever look, so don't wait for the digitally re-mastered director's cut. Japanese audio is available only in Dolby Stereo, the film is obviously post-synched later, but it is not too apparent. My greatest complaint is the lack of any real extras. I'm sure that a director's commentary would be too much to expect from a reclusive Fujiwara, but is there any Japanese film expert out there who might come in handy to provide some kind of background to her film and its context? Couldn't anyone find her and film at least a brief interview? Even some liner notes would be appreciated, since very little is known about this artist, and this disc sadly misses the opportunity to present her in full glory. Other than that, this is a must-have DVD for all those who are not easily shocked, and who welcome extremes and transgressions.