Film Reviews

Violence Is Golden

Privately, so as not to give away your age, ask yourself a question: Do you remember when Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat was considered scandalous enough to merit an X rating from the MPAA? How the fun thing to do was smoke a couple of joints and head down to the Bijou to catch the full-length cartoon about the horny, dope-smoking feline and his sexual escapades, especially when it was paired with Reefer Madness in a late-night double bill?

Neither do I.
But if I did recall anything of the sort, I'd no doubt be shocked and mildly dismayed by the latest X-rated (okay, technically it's NC-17) animated feature to break into a few stouthearted theaters around the U.S. In these parts, only the Alliance Film and Video Project in Miami Beach would have the guts to exhibit a warped, violent, erotic, grotesque, animated splatterfest from Japan like Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend.

Bloodier, more explicit, and more perversely sexist than Heavy Metal or anything Bakshi ever did, Urotsukidoji is the film that confirms Japan-haters' worst nightmares. Virginal adolescent girls are brutally raped by perpetually transmogrifying demons with multiple penises the length of firehoses, then torn asunder, devoured, or casually blown to smithereens. There are no clear-cut good guys or bad guys, just a mind-numbing stream of bloodthirsty, lust-crazed ghouls having it out with each other. Bizarrely, the human characters are all drawn like white, middle-class, suburban American WASPs A no blacks, no Latins, and no Japanese. And most of the humans are either (literally) monsters underneath, or exist solely to be ravaged or killed (or both) by one of the beasts.

You could get into some pretty heated discussions over what it all means. Is the absence of any hint of Asian heritage in the characters' features evidence of cultural self-loathing, standard procedure for sci-fi animation worldwide, or an obvious play for American and European theatergoers' dollars? Is the relentless sexual abuse of women indicative of contemporary Japanese society's sexist attitudes or just the stuff of adolescent male fantasy? Is the obsession with Armageddonian destruction of Japanese cities psychic fallout from the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima?

From Go Nagai's Devilman series in the early Seventies through Hideki Takayama's recent Wandering Kid direct-to-video shorts, Japanese animators have made a point of going where Disney A and even Bakshi A have feared (or had the decency not) to tread. Fantasy, erotica, horror, sci-fi A all are fair game for the new wave of cartoonists from the Isle of Nippon and have been embraced by a rabid cult following here in the States.

Urotsukidoji is really a compendium, edited by Takayama, of the first three Wandering Kid episodes. The plot is your basic brink-of-the-apocalypse, fatalistic-futurist mumbo-jumbo. The world is divided into three dimensions: Human, Man-Beast (the Jyujinkai), and Monster Demon (Makai). Along comes an Overfiend (Chojin) every 3000 years or so, to destroy the existing world and unite the three dimensions, ushering in a new era of peace and understanding. The catch is that the Overfiend doesn't know he's his own bad self. He's born a human. The Makai and the Jyujinkai, meanwhile, have spent the last 2900 years (give or take a century) divvying up the universe. They don't like the idea of some interloper coming along and changing the rules in the middle of the game. So they try to ice the dude before he can get his game plan rolling. But first they have to figure out which pathetic human he is.

Benign, it isn't. Takayama's Japanimation ranges from primitive (limited character movement) to mind-bending, state-of-the-art, computer- generated imagery that verges on sensory overload. The plot is merely an excuse to go off on misogynist, bloodletting rampages. It's a sort of Speed Racer and Godzilla in Caligula amalgam that gets its rocks off on wanton sociopathic destruction and hypersex. (Imagine the devil from Fantasia with an appetite for nubile teenyboppers.)

Urotsukidoji picks up where Heavy Metal left off. It's enough to make a person nostalgic for Wizards.

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Todd Anthony
Contact: Todd Anthony