Nobody does existential sadism quite like the Japanese. This sounds like quite an odd and probably unflattering cultural generalization, but the list of films mixing extreme gore and transgressive philosophy that come from the country speaks for itself. Ignoring the ham-fisted “Guinea Pig” series, films like the “All Night Long” trilogy and “Organ” succeed in providing chilling and nihilistic explorations into the relationship between the human soul and the human body. Of course this relationship is generally investigated and illustrated through bodily mutilation and/or mutation, which does edge the films into exploitation territory.
However, the superior films in this obscure subgenre stand alone 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” is possibly the best of these films — harrowing, ponderous, sickening, and yet oddly beautiful at times. It is 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 from “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, from “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 75-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 director 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 disgust with the base human needs of superficiality and consumption. 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 very 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 (“Tetsuo”). 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 with judicious use of the ‘fast-forward’ button, it will certainly satisfy or repulse, depending on your reasons for watching. The effects are quite incredible, achieving a seldom seen, or indeed wanted, level of realism. This is not to suggest that they are gratuitous, as Sato quite obviously includes them to make a point rather than simply to shock. He has a talent for maximizing the impact of these scenes, displaying 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 act of self-consumption is quite unlike anything I have ever seen, and I honestly have no idea how some of the effects were achieved.
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 the initiated, 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.
Hisayasu Sato (director) / Taketoshi Watari (screenplay)
CAST: Misa Aika …. Rika Mikami
Sadao Abe …. Eiji Kure