Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kei Fujiwara's Organ (1996) review


Frankly, I'm astonished at some of the bad reviews of this film--ignore them. If you love extreme cinema that explores the basis of the human animal, you have found a home in the cinematic space-time continuum. Ostensibly, this is a Yakuza and detective film, with elements of film noir and expressionism.

It is not a purely genre film at all, but an art film with incredible complexity about what it is to be human. Fujiwara is best known for her role in Shinya Tsukamoto's "Tetsuo: the Iron Man" (her role is a memorable sex-act), and her relationship to his work shows here. That's because she was co-author of the film, a fact that often gets overlooked. The first Tetsuo film is just as much hers as it is Tsukamoto's. You can still feel her absence in his most recent films.

The human body is the battlefield, as well as the human soul. Much of life to Fujiwara consists-of: birth/mutilation/exploitation/death. Joy is a small-part of this process. To the Buddhist, life is primarily misery that has to be transcended. Maybe it took an inspired woman to say this, and a Buddhist one at that. In so many ways, this feels like a tale by Edgar Allan Poe! The similarities are in the psychological nature, as well as an obsession with repulsion. As a matter of fact, "Organ" is on-par with Poe and his Japanese analog, "Edogawa Rampo" (a pen-name), the other legendary detective and psychological horror writer. This is a film I have watched several times, and it always delivers a new revelation or insight. One viewing is simply not enough to begin to understand it, as in all cinema that aspires to be art.

If Organ is ugly, it's because life has ugliness. If it has beauty (and it does), it is because life does. Even in mutilation, even in our decay, there is a visual beauty. Just ask David Lynch, and just ask a mortician or a coroner. Lividity has an incredible range of colors. Repulsion can be transformed into an attraction to the life-process, it's a philosophical choice. There are roughly two narrative paths to the film: first, the story of the outsider detective searching for his "dead" partner after their uncovering of a horrific black market organ-smuggling ring run by Yakuza, and secondly, the story of the insiders of the ring, a brother and sister. The detective-narrative reminded me strongly of Kurosawa's "Stray Dog" (aka "Nora Inu," 1949), and is probably a conscious nod by Fujiwara.

Other noirish elements reminded me of two films by Yasuzo Masumura: Blind Beast (1969), that has similar themes of destructive sexual-obsession, and Manji (1964). Both films center on a sexual-obsession that intensifies towards death and an ultimate bodily-mutilation. This is why some comparisons of this strain of Japanese cinema with the works of director David Cronenberg are off-the-mark. Fujiwara knows her cinema well.

In the depraved underworld reality of Organ, the surgeon brother has reanimated the "lost" cop and is doing hellish experiments on him, transforming his form into a monstrosity (while paradoxically making him more spiritually human and further dehumanizing himself). Meanwhile, his incestuous sister Yoko runs the organ-snatching gang, and fends-off the outside world, keeping their spiritual sickness and decay alive. It's an interesting structure of hidden worlds and unseen images, which makes the film eminently rewatchable. The philosophical themes of birth-and-death are also very rewarding.


Yes, it's an extremely low-budget film shot on 16mm, but it's also a well-executed work by a genuine maverick of cinema. The rejections of this work come from the gore and the thematic-structure, which must be seen to be believed. Americans have a fear of nearly everything, but especially graphic depictions of death-and-decay and the disintegration of the personality. At the film's philosophical-core is the relationship with the surgeon brother within the organ ring, and the reanimated cop.

As grotesque as the half-dead cop appears, he's more human than the internally-diseased brother and sister. In fact, he's metaphor for the surgeon's remaining-humanity that's slipping-away; Fujiwara makes it clear that the brother and sister were horribly abused as children by their psychopathic mother, making it the origin of their spiritual-decay and sadism. Fujiwara tends towards "nurture" rather than "nature" in this respect regarding the origins of human injustice and sadism. The film, then, is about cycles. As though in some diseased womb, the reanimated cop is hidden away by the surgeon in a secret room where the two have an "internal-dialog" that's a philosophical debate for OUR benefit.

The other half of the narrative is also very powerful. The outsider detective's obsession finding his partner has taken a horrible toll on his family. It seems that being a cop hasn't done himself or his home any good, even before the body snatching incident. These tableaux are just more of the examples of the cycle of abuse and neglect in the film, and they're potent ones. Again and again, Fujiwara paints life as such (so you don't miss it): birth, mutilation/exploitation at the hands of others, and finally, death.

Sadly, this is the fate that awaits many human beings in this inhuman era we inhabit. Consider this when you buy products "Made in China" sometime. Out of the themes of this film, one could surmise that Mrs. Fujiwara has a strong ambivalence to motherhood. What is puzzling is why so many women do not. This film is a contemporary masterpiece, hands-down. "Organ 2" [Ed., 08.30.2008--Called "Id," also extraordinary.] has been completed, so expect more of the same!