By Glenn Sturdy
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Japan has a reputation for producing often high-art, good quality soft-porn movies - called pink films. The harder films come under the bracket roman-porn of which School of the Holy Beast (1974) is an example. Directed by Norifumi Suzuki it's a nun-exploitation full of sex and violence.
The stunning Yumi Takigawa plays Maya, a young woman who enters the St. Clore's Sacred Heart Convent to find out how her mother died there. On her first night she sees a topless nun whip herself as she prays to God. Maya is told that this is not unusual and she will become accustomed to it. The following day she meets the whiskey drinking Sister Ishida, a provocative nun who questions her faith, believes the Immaculate Conception to be a lie, and states that the only girls who become nuns are drop-outs from society. Rumours spread that Maya is spying for the Abbess. However she finds the real spies engaging in a lesbian tryst and warns them that they now follow her rules. The Sound of Music this ain't!
Maya finds notes that her mother died of a heart attack but believes this to be untrue. She escapes and returns to a nightclub and her boyfriend. She asks him to dress as a nun and during the night they enter the Abbey and he fucks the little-protesting Abbess. Maya is arrested and, in one of the films most notorious scenes, is taken to the Persecution Room where she is whipped by a garland of thorny roses. The scsene has become a youtube favourite with nearly 100,000 hits. The topless Maya, breasts exposed and bleeding, looks on with painful spite - a look made more forceful by the fact that the actress was mightily pissed off with the filmmakers for making her appear nude. Petals explode like fireworks as she writhes in agony. She is eventually saved by Sister Ishida.
Archbishop Father Kakinuma enters St. Clore revelling in the orgasmic butchery around him.Pornographic pictures are found which the Abbess uses for masturbation. When money goes missing, Kakinuma rapes Sister Hisako, the young nun who has taken it. Hisako falls pregnant and is forced to drink salt-water till she pisses over an image of Christ to prove her devilment. The film ends with Maya attempting to find the truth as horrorific and bloody murder follow her every move.
School of the Holy Beast is incredibly well made. It's well structured with a great script and decent acting. An X-rated movie full of perversity and blasphemy, it transcends it's porno heritage and is quite unlike anything seen in the West. If anything it's more akin to Pasolini's Sado, or the 120 days of Sodom (1975) as made by Hammer. The later, and far superior, In the Realm of the Senses (1976) would use elements of erotic-grotesque and roman-porn to produce a true filmic classic. But ...Holy Beast manages to stand proud itself with sometimes quite astonishing imagery. The early opening scenes focus on posters of 60's French new-wave films which are an obvious inspiration in this film's making. The fact it is so very good enabled Yumi Takigawa, in her first movie, as a springboard to a highly succesful mainstream career.
The DVD itself is a worthy gem. The print is gorgeous and the vibrant colours leap from the screen. A lenthy interview with Takigawa, who is astonished that her first role is even getting a release after more than thirty years, is included. As is an informative talk from critic Risaku Kiridoushi. If you can stomach the story it's well worth picking up - enter the title in youtube to get some indication of what to expect!
School of the Holy Beast is released by Cult Epics on Region One (US) DVD.
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