• Horrors Of Malformed Men

    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: August 28, 2007.
    Director: Teruo Ishii
    Cast: Teruo Yoshida, Seizaburo Kawazu, Kunio Murai, Akemi Negishi, Ko Nishimura
    Year: 1969
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    The Movie:

    Adopted for the big screen by Teruo Ishii who based his screenplay on legendary Japanese author Edogawa Rampo’s novel The Strange Tale Of Panorama Island, the often talked about but rarely seen Horrors Of Malformed Men finally sees its first legitimate home video release thanks to Synapse Films and Panik House.

    Hirosuki Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida how also shows up in Ishii’s notorious The Joy Of Torture and Goke – Body Snatcher From Hell) is an amnesiac medical student who winds up in police custody. Before long, he breaks out and runs from the law and when he sees a local newspaper reporting on the death of a man named Mokota Genzaburou who could pass for his identical twin, he sees an opportunity to assume the man’s identity and in turn, to try and figure out his own past and the many mysteries that comprise it.

    Hirosuki eventually travels to a strange island ruled by a mad doctor named Jogoro Komodo (Tatsumi Hijikata who plays the hunchback in Blind Woman’s Curse), a truly strange man with webbed hands and a penchant for turning every day, normal folks into freaks by way of some unorthodox surgery and chemical treatments. As such, these malformed men populate the island, with Jogoro serving as their king. Hirosuki investigates Jogoro’s work and his life and soon uncovers some disheartening revelations, which indicate that he may be his long, lost father.

    Filled with completely bizarre and at times rather surreal imagery, Horrors Of Malformed Men appears to borrow from Todd Browning’s Freaks in a few spots but definitely puts a unique spin on things making this film one that has a strange lasting effect on the viewer. When the film debuted in 1969, it reportedly left quite a mark on the Japanese movie-going public who still had fresh memories of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. As such the film was more or less yanked from circulation and when the Japanese word for ‘malformed’ was effectively banned, the film was only very rarely ever seen afterwards. While some of the impact may have weakened in the decades since this film was made, most of the scenes still disturb not because of gore or jump scares but because of the legitimate and genuine feeling of perversity. At the same time, the choreography used by some of the malformed characters and by Jogoro in particular, who moves like a crab, is eye-catching and at times almost beautiful.

    While the story is certainly less impressive than the visuals (the influence of H. G. Wells' The Island Of Doctor Moreau seems obvious) there are still some interesting twists thrown in here to keep this from being more than just a series of bizarre and pretty pictures. The finale in particular is rather surprising and more than a little disturbing and if the first third of the film seems a little bit ‘by the numbers’ once we’re at the second act we find there’s really no turning back.

    The cinematography, courtesy of Shigeru Akatsuka, the man who shot Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon and Girl Boss Guerilla, is fantastic. The camera do a great job of capturing the subtle macabre undertones of certain aspects of the picture as well as the more blatant and obvious make up effects that are used to bring the various characters to life. The movie looks fantastic from start to finish, and the unusual score from Masao Yagi does a fine job of enhancing the mood without becoming distracting.


    Horrors Of Malformed Men arrives on DVD in a fantastic 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that really does justice to the film’s popping color scheme and freaky visual style. The primary colors used to bathe a few key scenes in the film look quite good and really bring home the abstract effect that the cinematographer and director were obviously striving for. At the same time, the colors don’t ever bleed or obscure any of the detail on the screen, ensuring that the image is always very sharp and that foreground and background detail stay strong. Black levels are deep without getting murky and flesh tones look lifelike and natural.

    The film is presented in its original Japanese language, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono format, with optional subtitles provided in English only. In terms of the quality of the mix, there’s nothing to complain about here. Dialogue is clean and clear, there are no problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced. The eerie score resonates nicely and the English subtitles are free of any obvious typographical errors.

    Supplements start off with a feature length audio commentary courtesy of Japanese film critic Mark Schilling who writes for The Japan Times. Shilling speaks at length about the history of the production but spends just as much time putting it into context alongside some of the Ishii’s other pictures and in providing some welcome biographical details about the director. Shilling details the involvement of the dance troupe in the film and explains why they were chosen and the importance that they play in certain key scenes. He also does a good job of giving us some basic but essential information on Edogawa Rampo’s story and some interesting biographical information about the author who is widely considered to be the Japanese equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe.

    From there, check out the first of two featurettes, Malformed Memories, which is essentially a twenty-three minute sit down interview/chat with two of Ishii’s contemporaries, Shinya Tsukamoto (director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man) and Minoru Kawasaki (who directed The Calamari Wrestler). Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, the pair discusses Ishii’s influence and the importance of his work. A few clips of Ishii video interviews allow the director himself to make a posthumous appearance and speak briefly about the picture. The second featurette, Ishii In Italia, is a fourteen-minute clip from Ishii’s appearance at The Far East Film Festival that was held in Italy in 2003 where he introduced a rare screening of Horrors Of Malformed Men to a fairly enthusiastic audience by discussing his appreciation of Rampo’s work and why sex and violence have a place in the movies.

    Finishing off the extras on the disc are the original Japanese theatrical trailer for the film (presented in anamorphic widescreen with optional English subtitles), a still gallery of Teruo Ishii related theatrical poster artwork, text biographies for Teruo Ishii and Edogawa Rampo, animated menus and chapter stops.

    Inside the disc is a booklet containing an essay on the odd history of the film called Freaks In The Head: Four Decades Of Malformed Men by Patrick Macias and Tomo Machiyama. The writers do a fine job of explaining how and why it was that this film has remained in almost complete obscurity outside of a few rare viewings over the last forty odd years. A second essay from Jasper Sharp entitled Edogawa Rampo’s World On Film covers the history of big screen adaptations of the author’s writing, stretching from the 1920s to the present day and covering all bases in between. Both pieces do a fine job of complimenting the commentary track that plays over top of the feature on the secondary audio track even if they cover some of the same ground. The cover art by Wes Benscoter features a fantastic painting influenced by the film, but those who prefer original poster art will be elated to find that the cover art is reversible and that the opposite side does contain a reproduction of the Japanese one-sheet. A small thing, maybe, but a nice touch nonetheless.

    The Final Word:

    A genuine holy grail of Japanese genre cinema, Horrors Of Malformed men gets a very respectable and contextually fascinating home video debut from Synapse. The transfer is great, the extras are interesting and plentiful, and most importantly, the movie is as unique as it is.