Dec 19, 2013

Living Hell: Gay Symbolism, Nudity, and Gore

I don't have much interest in the Japanese "guro" genre, which isn't about scaring you so much as displaying blood spurting out of disembowled people.  But some of them, like Shugo Fujii's Living Hell (2000) and White Panic (2005), have enough male nudity and gay symbolism to make them worthwhile...almost.

Living Hell (Iki-jikogu) stars teenager Yasu (Hirohito Honda), confined to a wheelchair due to "hysterical exhaustion," who lives with his older brother Ken (Kazuo Yashiro) and adopted sister Rumi.  The family is happy and "normal" until his senile grandmother Chiyo and her granddaughter Yuki, survivors of a grisly multiple murder, move in.  Grandma is a dour, expressionless, ghost-like creature who says things like "Children are the root of all evil."  Yuki doesn't speak at all.

Yasu is frightened of the women, but Ken tells him that he must accept family, no matter how odd.  Besides, they were traumatized by the tragedy.  They begin harassing Yasu when everyone else is out, first with minor pranks, then with painful torture, including hours of electroshock on his sex organs.

Ken doesn't believe him, and the women warn that if he tells Rumi, they will kill her.  The audience is led to believe that he may be just hallucinating.  Or maybe Yuki is real, but Grandma Chiyo is a ghost.

He tries to escape, but is captured.

Mitzo (director Shugo Fujii, left) who works with Ken at the newspaper, starts to investigate the original murders, and suspects that Chiyo and Yuki were responsible.  After some stuff involving a failed genetic experiment, he goes to the house, finds Yasu, and tries to rescue him, but then he, too, is captured.

Then Yasu discovers the awful truth: he belongs to a family of cannibals!

Yasu is soft, passive, androgynous, and sexual -- the camera loves his semi-nude body (there is also a brief frontal).  Mitzo is hard, tough, and masculine.  It is interesting that the director makes Yasu the object of the gaze and himself the hero, storming into the house for a homoerotic same-sex rescue from the depraved heterosexual family.

It's too late, of course.  Blood splatters everywhere.  This movie is not for the squeamish.

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