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Tuesday, April 09, 2002

UROTSUKI DOJI : Legend Of The Overfiend…
Last Friday I bunked off work a little early to try and get some returns for a film showing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank with a live band doing the score. The film was UROTSUKI DOJI : Legend Of The Overfiend and when Sarah found out I was going she was keen to join me as she was a fan of the film. With a stroke of luck I managed to get two tickets right near the front. Perhaps ‘luck’ isn’t quite the right word judging by what we experienced.

We took our seats early and saw that the band was set up ready to play in front of the screen (but not obscuring our line of sight). Perhaps the number of speakers on the stage should have warned us what was to come.

Then the film started. And so did the noise.

Acid Mother Temple are a five piece Tokyo thrash rock band and when they started playing we were literally pinned to our seats by the noise. It was ferocious. Loud? Loud doesn’t begin to describe the volume of the sounds that were vibrating our whole bodies. It was so disorientating that we could neither speak nor think. It was bit like taking acid – you could almost see the sound. Strangely enough this assault on the senses was to compliment the film perfectly.

Now this is not the easiest film to review. UROTSUKI DOJI was notorious in anime fandom as ultra-porn, and before release here the film was investigated by the Obscene Publications squad, trimmed by its UK licencees, and censored by the BBFC.

For fans of explicit horror, the movie offers plenty of gore and sexual titillation. The monsters are amazing, and look far more convincing than anything you've ever seen in live action horror. The action is fast-paced and brutal, and the dubbed dialogue has been peppered with four letter words.

The human characters are sufficiently interesting to attract our sympathy. The heroine, a university student, suffers much humiliation at the hands of the more demonic characters. In the opening scene a lesbian teacher who attempts to seduce her ends up turning into a demon with tens of penises that brutally rape her. This is first of many such rape scenes. Each as shocking.

Blood and semen play a large part in the film. The hero/antihero gets attacked by a gay bully early on who then licks the blood off his face. Later another male character licks the same hero/antiheroes semen from a girl’s face to try and gain some of his powers. All very Freudian I'm sure.

Sadly interest flags in the latter part of the movie where the human characters feature less, and the 'ending' of the story is rather weak.

If this was just another nasty film, it would not have attracted so much attention. Perhaps surprisingly, UROTSUKI DOJI is good enough to merit some serious attention. This is a gripping and well-made piece of animation. Though unpleasant, the film is astonishing, disturbing and well enough scripted to engender a certain suspension of disbelief and an unnerving descent into nightmare and darkly beautiful visions. For the more thoughtful viewer, viewing this is not necessarily a particularly enjoyable experience, but, like a visit to a war zone, it's not necessarily an experience one would wish to forego. The experience of shock can be profound. Made with disregard for any restriction on what may be shown in a piece of art, the film exploits its theme of largely sexual violence to the full and will challenge many viewers in terms of what he or she feels comfortable watching. The line artwork is particularly fine, with figures and faces drawn with greater realism than is customary in anime, and the visual effects amaze.

When it was first released UROTSUKI DOJI evoked mixed responses, even among anime fans. Some people found it unwatchable, but it did quite well in the shops at the beginning of 1993 and, evidently favoured by fans of horror and gross-out, it sold 10,000 in the first two weeks and got into the video Top 10.

Some, like Time Out, think it's "the kind of Japanese import we can do without". The release, though very successful, was in one sense regrettable as UROTSUKI DOJI is not typical of most anime. Japanese culture is not the same as ours, and this movie lifts the lid on a Japanese sub-culture of violent and sexual material that very few Westerners are equipped to understand. Hence we unavoidably judge this alien art through Western eyes. An unsettling film then, which balances art with extremes we can hardly dare imagine.

In this case the cert. 18 really means what it says. This movie is entirely unsuitable for juveniles. If you are not sure of your response to UROTSUKI DOJI, you may be well advised not to watch it. On the other hand, if you are a fan of such material, you're probably on your way to Amazon.com or the video shop already.

When the film finally finished people started to applaud. But to us it sounded like faint, distant clapping so numbed were we to the noise. We didn't hang around for encores by Acid Mother Temple. We stumbled out of the venue with ringing in our ears. Even in the taxi on the way home later we were still shouting at each other. The cabbie even turned off the red light in the back.

An unforgettable experience. Can't wait for the next one in June.

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