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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

"Love is Blind: Mothers, Fetishes, Art and Ideology in Masamura Yasuzō´s film adaptation of Edogawa Rampo´s Mōjū."


David Averbach, University of Berkeley

Edogawa Rampo, Japan’s foremost writer of detective novels, also produced a great number of works that have been classified under the literary genre quote;erotic-grotesque-nonsensequote; (ero-guro-nansensu). One of this category’s more gruesome works is Mōjū (Blind Beast), which was serialized in Asahi between 1931 and 1932. Mōjū depicts a blind sculptor who, masquerading as a travelling masseur, shops among his clients for the perfect set of bodies to use as models for his art. Actually, it is not so much their bodies that he is after as their body parts. One by one, he seduces them with his massage technique and then gruesomely murders them by severing their limbs and head. After each murder, he transforms some of the real body parts into a kind of visual street art by leaving them in random, conspicuous places around Tokyo. His ultimate goal-to produce the quote;world’s first tactile sculpture,quote; whereby these body parts are replicated and assembled into a crude and visually-grotesque work that is to be appreciated by touch more than sight-is realized at the end of the work.

As it plays with notions of seeing and not seeing, Rampo’s Mōjū suggests that art itself possesses a greatness which can transcend the circumstances of even the basest of artists who produce it. However, to the extent that one can call the artistic pursuit at hand a quote;noblequote; one, the 1969 film remake of this story completely disavows any notion that the production of art can be separated from its experience. The film version does not move beyond the first kidnapping, as the blind sculptor, in true 1970s pinku style, forsakes his initial artistic plan for the tactile world of sexual passion and sadomasochism with the young model he abducts. Directed by Masumura Yasuzo, whose brilliant but, sadly, not very well-known works explore the intersection between sex and violence through the use of quote;excess,quote; this film has in recent years been inducted into the halls of cult cinema in Japan. Visually, this film has been called a sublime cinematic masterpiece, yet I will be limiting this presentation to the ways in which the ideology of the film as a whole differs from that of the novel, and, more importantly, how these differences are achieved within the work.

The most interesting aspect of Masumura’s Mōjū in this regard is the introduction of the mother of the blind sculptor. The presence of this mother, who is nowhere to be found in Rampo’s Mōjū, is the key to understanding the ideological struggle contained in the film. Undoubtedly influenced by debates in the fields of literature, psychology and anthropology regarding the quote;uniquequote; relationship between mother and son in Japan at the time, the addition of the mother-figure represents a conscious choice on the part of Masumura to provide a (pop-)psychological motivation for the actions of the quote;blind beast.quote; Moreover, Masumura places the protagonist of the film in between a mother determined to do anything it takes to see to it that her son is a quote;successfulquote; artist and a wily young actress whose only means of escape is her ability to sexually manipulate the situation, thereby creating a quote;tug-of-warquote; structure that serves as a metaphor for the ideological struggle addressed by the work as a whole.

This paper is part of a larger dissertation that investigates ways in which certain mother-son depictions in modern Japanese literature, Japanese film and popular culture have been (mis)used by literary scholars to construct and propagate an quote;alternative,quote; culturally essentialized psychological model for actual mother-son relationships in Japan. I envision these mother-son depictions not as quote;proofquote; of a unique bond between mother and son in Japan but as a kind of writing strategy utilized by authors to provide an ideological structure to their works.