LOST PARADISE (MASAMI AKITA, 1990)
aka Shitsurakuen: jôbafuku onna harakiri
It may seem odd that I'm taking time to review what is ostensibly (from my understanding, at least) a fetish film. In fact it may even seem counter productive; the purpose of any fetish film or video is not primarily to achieve any sort of art outside of the fetish as depicted. The films and videos make no effort to appear to a general customer, rather they are tailored to the specific, niche audience that spends time waiting for the films that will fill their specific desires.
Lost Paradise is one of six seppuku videos produced by Right Brain Video in the early 1990s. I have no idea how they sold, whether or not they were actually intending to be sold alongside more general AV releases or if they were more specialty gore videos (the early 90s were also the time when the infamous Guinea Pig movies got their start and notoriety). So while I'm not sure of the exact purpose the videos served, for the purposes of this review I will treat the film as a specialty fetish video.
What little plot exists in Lost Paradise can be explained briefly; a woman in militaristic garb walks down a hallway. This image is alternatively cut between with a man standing in front of a fire. After she walks down the hallway, the woman sits down and begins to partially disrobe, revealing the top of her panties and her breasts (which, from what I understand, is a regular element of a seppuku video, which is partially why I'm assuming it's fetishistic intentions), and begins fondling her stomach. Eventually she pulls out a knife and partially wraps it in clothe, and inserts the knife on the left side of her stomach, eventually pulling it all the way across. As the knife slowly progresses, following large splays of blood, her innards begin to fall out while she continues to painfully and ecstatically moan. Eventually, she dies. Shortly after a man walks into the room, starts shouting (the copy I watched was not subtitled so I'm unsure of any relevance to the video as a whole that the dialogue may or may not have) and then shoots himself in the head. After the camera lingers on the two dead bodies from above, a fade out occurs and we see a new woman, also in militaristic garb, carrying a whip as an older man crawls before her. Fade out to credits.
The whole thing lasts about 34 minutes, and really, doesn't amount to much on a surface level. The video work is utterly amateurish; and by that I mean that you can literally tell that there is somebody behind the lens that you (being the viewer) are currently looking through, which is slightly distracting, but something that one can more or less get used to. It is also not the type of thing that would be championed by gore hounds; it's very slow paced, and the gore is blatantly faked.
But those things really don't matter to me; rather, it's something that the video got me thinking about that was interesting. As I was viewing the film as a fetish video (I suppose as opposed to a gore video), the whole idea of representation became particularly relevant. To the fetishist, it doesn't matter that the camera work is below par and the whole ordeal looks utterly faked-- what matters is that the idea that the fetishist is interested in is blatantly presented. And it's this that lead to me considering the fabrication of the ideas in these videos-- I would presume that those who make the videos have to more or less share the fetish themselves, at least for their videos to achieve any sort of notoriety within the filmmakers target niche. So really, watching the video is like watching a process, and what comes out of a process; the concept of the entire ordeal is utterly on display within the frame.
Naturally, I didn't hate the video. The music, done by the director Masami Akita (which is more or less the reason I bothered to track the video down in the first place-- which, by the way, at least some of the tracks in the video are from Music for Bondage Performance) perfectly echoes what is displayed on screen. It's interesting for me, as a fan of harsh noise music, to see what happens when an image is directly juxtaposed with the sound, as I often find the soundscapes themselves create quite a mental visual image. The musical selections that Akita chooses are some of his subtler, "low grumbling" pieces, which while being more or less omnipresent throughout the video, crescendo and consciously insert themselves periodically throughout the duration, and it is through these moments that it becomes apparent that Akita is primarily a musician; he shows an utter understand of how the music he creates actually works. Another thing that I found of interest was the ritualistic nature of the events, and then my reaction of placing ritual in a fetish context. It is very methodical, and very planned. It's unfortunate that the camera woman is somewhat inept (although, alternatively it could just be that a lower-end video camera was being used), because a sublime beauty within the ritual is indeed lurking, but the videography does absolutely nothing to reveal it.
I should note, however, that there are elements of the film that are going over my head. The sequence of events at the beginning of the video (the *thing* falling off the woman's boots and then the man burning these same unidentified *things*) and the end (the man who enters and shoots himself in the head) are beyond anything I can comprehend, due to either my lack of familiarity with esoteric symbols that are either cultural or specific to the fetish, or also probably in part to my lack of knowledge of the small about of dialogue that's present. So the film could be something more than I'm relating it as, but from my viewing experience, this is what I can respond to.
In conclusion, as a film itself Lost Paradise is nothing special, nothing even noteworthy really. It's as a process, as a moment of ritualised fetish, that the video transcends what it actually is and becomes something worth talking about. And because of that, because of the ideas that it confronted me with, I can honestly say that it's interesting.