Blind Beast is a grotesque portrait of the bizarre relationship between a blind sculptor and his captive muse, adapted from a short story from Japan’s foremost master of the macabre, Edogawa Rampo (Horrors of Malformed Men, The Black Lizard, Caterpillar).
An artist’s model, Aki (Mako Midori), is abducted, and awakens in a dark warehouse studio whose walls are decorated with outsized women’s body parts – eyes, lips, legs and breasts – and dominated by two recumbent giant statues of male and female nudes. Her kidnapper introduces himself as Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), a blind sculptor whom she had witnessed previously at an exhibition in which she featured intently caressing a statue of her naked torso. Michio announces his intention of using her to sculpt the perfect female form. At first defiant, she eventually succumbs to his intense fixation on her body and finds herself drawn into his sightless world, in which touch is everything.
Blind Beast is a masterpiece of erotic horror that explores the all-encompassing and overwhelming relationship between the artist and his art and the obsessive closed world that the artist inhabits, with maestro director Yasuzo Masumura (Giants and Toys, Irezumi) conjuring up a hallucinogenic dreamworld in which sensual and creative urges combine with a feverish intensity.
Arrow Video continues to make their way through the work of Yasuzo Masumura, presenting his 1969 film Blind Beast on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a master supplied by Kadakowa.
Unlike their previous title from the director, Irezumi, which received a new 4K restoration, Blind Beast is sourced from an older master. It’s an interesting looking film, taking place primarily in the dark, and this presentation does decent enough by it, but there is a digital look to it, and a new restoration could really do wonders. It’s unfortunately a bit of a fuzzy looking when all is said and done, a mix of the dated master and what is more than likely a later generation print. Black levels look decent but they're incredibly flat, lacking much in the way of gradients, which ends up limiting shadow details and depth. Details are okay, but the finer ones get lost in the fuzzy look. Though grain is kinda present there are noticeable artifacts and blocky patterns, which even pop up along the edges of objects here and there.
The colour scheme for the film is severely limited, though for what we do get they look fine enough and are saturated well (Arrow’s notes mention they performed some grading). Damage is rarely an issue, only a few marks popping, so the restoration work seems to have been thorough enough. Unfortunately the work is lost in what ends up being an image that looks more digital than film-like.
The film comes with a lossless Japanese PCM single-channel monaural soundtrack. It sounds fine overall, though dialogue can sound a wee-bit tinny in places and though music sounds to have a bit of range there’s a general flatness to everything. It’s fine but nothing really sticks out about it.
Arrow includes a few supplements, starting things off with a new audio commentary by Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson. Jackson’s track can be a little dry but he covers a range of subjects related to the film, from the Japanese pink films that were coming out at the time to Masumura’s representation of gender roles in the film and how the film's story revolves around women’s empowerment, fitting in with some of the director’s other work. He also covers the technical attributes of the film, examining the compositions of many sequences (which take place in a very dark warehouse full of large sculptures) and shares his thoughts on specific plot points and the film’s shift in the last act. It’s a decent analytical track, but there’s a scripted nature to it and it could use a similar energy to what Irene González-López brought to her track for Masumura’s Giants and Toys.
The ever-dependable Tony Rayns pops up yet again, offering an introduction to the film. The 18-minute discussion first goes over Masumura’s early career and before Rayns moves on to Blind Beast, sort of chuckling when he gets into certain plot turns (though he avoids major spoilers) and explaining how the film came about because of Daiei’s financial issues and turn to exploitive features. Arrow also provides a new 11-minute video essay by Seth Jacobowitz called Blind Beast: Masumura the Supersensualist, who offers a brief look at the film’s themese and the sadomasochist relationship between the two characters. Jacobowitz also brings up how pre-war work possibly influenced the film, and he mentions the case of Abe Sada, which also infamously influenced Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses. It's an okay essay but it ends up spending most of its time just reiterating the story.
The release then closes with some standards from Arrow: the film’s trailer, an image gallery featuring photos, posters and lobby cards, and then a booklet, limited to first pressings. The booklet first features an essay on the film by film scholar Virginie Sélavy, followed by Masumura’s filmography, which Arrow has included in other releases for the director’s work.
A decent collection of material worth going through, though it all ultimately lacks the energy and impact found in a couple of Arrow’s previous releases for Masumura’s work.
Well worth picking up for those discovering the work of Yasuzo Masumura, but the features don’t reach the same levels of Arrow's previous editions for the director’s films, and the presentation is in serious need of an update.