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Review © Mandi Apple, 2007.

PLEASE - If you are of a nervous disposition, or under the legal age limit to view the equivalent of NC-17 rated movies, do not proceed any further down this page. You will find images of an extremely graphic and violent nature on this page. If you do not wish to proceed, click here or on any link on the left to exit.

Directed by Daisuke Yamanouchi, 1999, 65 mins., starring Yuki Emoto, Naohi Hirakawa, and Kanichi Kanbe.

Directed in 1999 by notorious splatter-meister Daisuke Yamanouchi, Muzan E (aka Muzan-e: AV gyaru satsujin bideo wa sonzai shita!) represents one of a select number of titles so extreme in subject and execution that not only have they never appeared on the market to date with any kind of subtitles, they make some of the later Guinea Pig titles look like a teddy bear's picnic.

There's something terribly close to the heart of what makes the underbelly of Asian extreme cinema so compelling, so forbidden and so exciting, watching a grubby tenth-generation VHS-to-DVDr copy of an unsubtitled, infamous splatter title such as Muzan E, so reviled it's barely even mentioned outside hardcore gorehound circles. As with the earlier titles of the Guinea Pig series before the amazing chaps at Unearthed Films picked them up and brought them to a far wider audience fed up with the limitations of the generic, unchallenging stalk'n'slash which barely even scratches the surface of what horrors the human mind can endure - or indeed, think up - Muzan E has really only one point in common with the Guinea Pig series: to sicken and horrify. (Indeed, I understand that Unearthed Films will soon be releasing an official, subtitled DVD of Muzan E, which gladdens me: their work in bringing these titles out of obscurity to a Western audience tired of Jason vs Freddy vs Predator yet hungry for something... darker than your average flick, shall we say, is nothing short of remarkable.)

Initially it appears to be nothing more than a splatter flick after the Guinea Pig style, but on closer inspection, there seems to be rather a lot more to it than your average blood'n'guts shocker. Even the title, Mu Zan E, Muzan E or Muzan-e, however you choose to spell it, carries a historical validity: meaning literally "atrocity print", it usually refers to a subset of ukiyo-e woodblock painting popular in the 19th century featuring images of horror such as murder and rape. How very appropriate ;-)

Most of Muzan E is shot in a third-person perspective reportage style, as if it were being broadcast, or as if we are the ones behind the camera. It's very much after the same aesthetic as the first half of shakycam-special Focus, but actually retains a much more credible and believable feel: there's nothing to suggest throughout the first part of the movie that we're watching anything but a real documentary about a real concern. There are sequences of dramatised events; faces are blanked, genitals are mosaic-pixelated, names are changed to protect the not-so-innocent - all of which lends both a cinema verité-type realism and sinister feel to the proceedings.

The very fact that most of the female characters are shown as faceless by mosaic pixelation is deeply unsettling: they are displayed as nothing but bodies with no expressions or unique identification save their clothing, which is possibly the way the male characters perceive them too. And later on, throughout some very disturbing fake snuff footage, the third-person view gives the audience the unnerving feeling that it's them who is perpetrating the horror, or at the very least witnessing it in a voyeuristic manner.

The quality of the acting is pretty competent: everyone plays their roles in a good, understated way which suits the verité style perfectly. The soundtrack is also surprisingly effective: veering between cheap, tacky synthtastic news jingles and much darker and sparser incidental passages, the matching of music to theme works very well in conjunction with the unfolding events of the plot.

It must be said though that the visual quality is hopelessly dire: the screencaps will tell the story about how completely godawful it looks, as is the way with many titles of this nature. Even some completely legit pinku eiga titles look like they were shot underwater and coloured in with crayons, and this is no exception.

Synopsis

Without understanding every word which is being spoken, in the case of Muzan E it fortunately doesn't seem to matter too much: it's possible to pick up a generalised understanding of events. A female reporter is documenting cases of snuff moviemaking for a TV expose on the subject, and gets a bit too close to her subject matter. She arranges meetings with not only "connoisseurs" of AV material, but also with the filmmakers themselves. One of the "experts" on the AV scene tells the reporter about a particular video company distributing what he claims to be real, proper snuff videos, in an office building in Tokyo. He tells her that you can send money away to this particular company and they'll send you some lovely snuff, straight into the comfort of your own home by first class post.

Naturally, as part of her investigation, she goes right on over to check the place out, and meets with "S", one of the company owners, who tells her the story about how they came by some of the so-say real snuff titles they are currently selling. He also describes how one title shows an ordinary girl being kidnapped off the street in front of a particular building. Hot on the trail of the snuff filmmakers, the reporter heads over to witness a particularly nasty and brutal AV video shoot for what can only be described as menstruation fetish, and from there, she gets a lead to someone who can give her a copy of the purportedly real snuff video. Do you think she may be walking into trouble? I think she may be walking into trouble ;-)

Muzan E 's theme seems to me more than a little ironic, given as how the main protagonist, the reporter, is trying to uncover the shady world of the mythical snuff scene, among the deep underground titles in the flourishing Japanese AV VHS market of the mid-90s, to find out the truth as to whether there really are 'real' snuff films out there - which, naturally, is pretty much what category the movie itself falls into ;-) Without the benefit of understanding a great deal of the dialogue (there is surprisingly a great deal of talking, which I hadn't expected), I did feel that I was missing much of the heart of the movie: I'll certainly be interested to pick up the forthcoming subtitled Unearthed release because I feel that Muzan E has a lot more to say for itself than merely slapping the viewer in the face with a plethora of atrocities.

Interestingly, I thought I would find this title much more misogynistic than I did. Speaking from a woman's point of view, I found it intriguing that it was shot more from a female perspective than from a male one, with the use of the device of the female reporter making social commentary on the AV scene. And at no point was it suggested that the harsh, horrific movies being made were anything but by men, for men, and that brings in all the contempt and distress with which the female reporter imbues her judgement of the makers and the men who not only perpetrate these horrible acts upon women, but who also fuel the AV industry in both the areas of supply and demand. Most of the women portrayed in the movie are shown as typical victims, yet ultimately the reporter is shown to be both the strongest character and the strongest personality in the entire piece.

Either way, whether you choose to invest any social commentary in the narrative or not, Muzan E is not a title for the casual horror or gore fan. It is liberally littered with shock scenes, mostly involving some full-on pornography (although of course this is blanked in the genital areas as are nearly all Japanese movies involving sex, and probably doesn't contravene the pornography laws of most countries), blood, cruelty, "specialist" fetishes, barbaric treatment and some pretty gross things besides.

However, don't think for a moment that it's nothing but wall-to-wall bodily goop and gore: the amount that there is is undoubtedly harsh stuff, but there's surprisingly less of it in evidence than one might expect. Muzan E actually has a legitimate story, and follows it with a maturity of thought not usually displayed in other similar movies, with a validity and atmosphere not unlike that of another notorious splatter title, Kichiku dai enkai. There's even a completely unexpected twist in the tale that made me grin. Surprisingly good stuff which far exceeded my expectations.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment: 8/10
Violence: 10/10
Sex: 8/10 for amount, -8/10 for yuckiness. So therefore, technically... um... 0. Uh, that definitely doesn't sound right ;-)
Gore: 9/10
Subtitles: None, and for this movie, if not particularly necessary, it would still enrich the experience somewhat
Fat Ugly Blokes in Horrifying Knickers: 2. AGGGGH MY EYES!!! One burning out each eyeball!!! ;-)

Films in a similar style: The Guinea Pig series, Tesis, Naked Blood, Kichiku dai enkai, Niku Daruma

*** Recommended, but only for those with a strong stomach ***

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Daisuke Yamanouchi

Links

http://www.visual-pain.com - purveyors of all things rare, bizarre and all-round unavailable
http://www.fjmovie.com/horror/t7/22.html - cast list and fact file at FJ Movie
http://www.gomorrahy.com/daisuke-yamanouchi/mu-zan-e.htm - cover image and more details at Gomorrahy, along with a whole subsite devoted to Daisuke Yamanouchi at http://www.gomorrahy.com/daisuke-yamanouchi/daisuke-yamanouchi.htm
http://www.asianfeast.org/recensioni/muzane.htm - review in Italian, with some images
http://unearthedfilms.com/ - Unearthed Films have acquired the rights to Muzan E, along with quite a few other Daisuke Yamanouchi films - watch this space for some great forthcoming releases

this review (c) Mandi Apple Collingridge, 2007. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002-2006 mandiapple.com. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site.