Genre: Tale of Dismal Collectivism and Local Superstition
review in one breath
In a rural village, a young man is suddenly stricken with a mysterious and terrible disease which transforms him into an unrecognizable mass of festering sores. Fearful of the local towns people's opinion and reaction, the family strives to keep their diseased son hidden from sight. But when the nosy mayor and his delinquent son take things into their own hands, the horrible secret is brought to light with dreadful consequences for everyone involved. This is the last tale in Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror Hexology.
This is the last of six short stories in the collection entitled Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror. For a bit of background on the manga artist Hideshi Hino, I'll refer you to my recent review of the collection's first film, Boy from Hell.
Although each of the six films in this collection is directly based on specific characters and scenarios within Hino's horror manga, each is also the work of a different (up-and-coming) director.
The entire collection of Hideshi Hino's Theater of Horror consists of the following six films:
Boy from Hell (director: Mari Asato)
Dead Girl Walking (director: Kôji Shiraishi)
Death Train (director: Kazuyuki Sakamoto)
Doll Cemetery (director: Kiyoshi Yamamoto)
Lizard Baby (director: Yoshihiro Nakamura)
Ravaged House (director: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri)
This is a rather fascinating and insightful horror story despite its lack of anything supernatural or unrealistic. In fact, the scenario depicted here can in all likelihood have actually happened. The tension here is not between a young man and the hideous monster he has become, but rather between the mysterious nature of the disease and the rural town folks' superstitious reaction to it.
The tale is based upon a manga by author Hideshi Hino, whose work ranges from goopy gore to social commentary. This tale lies solely in the social commentary side of that spectrum and most likely reflects some of the childhood experiences Hino himself encountered. His own childhood was riddled with bewildering episodes of ostracization at the hands of local villagers due to his upbringing in (and later harrowing escape from) China during the Japanese occupation. Even after returning to the Japanese mainland, local Japanese continued to harass and eye with suspicion his family due to their "foreign" origin.
In many ways, Ravaged House tells a very similar and realistic tale of ostracization at the hands of superstitious and narrow-minded villagers. The story is particularly sad because it revolves around the fate of a once normal and beloved local boy who simply falls ill with a disease he has no control over. The mysterious transformation of the boy is enough to seriously destabilize not only his immediate family, but the town as a whole. At its core, this is a story about the utter destructiveness and havoc which ignorance and fear can wreak upon not only victims but the perpetrators themselves.
There are no supernatural elements evoked here and the "horror" stems only from the villagers' behavior once they deem the stricken boy a "monster" (o-bake mono). In much the same way as the remarkable film Onibaba (1964), the narrative uses solely realistic scenarios and traditional superstitions to demonstrate something truly terrifying, the potential darkness and evil of the human heart.
The director here is Kazuyoshi Kumakiri whose rather gruesome, historically-based Kichiku Dai Enkai (Banquest of the Beasts 1997) tells a similar tale of internal melt-down and bloodshed within an initially small and single-minded social group. The fascinating aspect of both stories involves how the very same like-mindedness which can bind a group together can also prove demonic once fear of discord and the unknown are suddenly introduced. As history has proven time and time again, humans are their own worst enemy once suspicion and ostracization take root. It is perhaps this simple, intuitable truth which Ravaged House depicts so well.
The Japanese title of this tale is Tadareta Ie. "Ie" most commonly means "house" but can also be expanded to include the notion of "family". The verb "tadareru" and the adjective "tadareta" are both used almost exclusively in reference to (the symptoms of) disease. Undoubtedly the English title is meant to convey a "Disease-Ravaged House/Family", but of course you wouldn't guess that until you actually see the film. Perhaps a more informative, literal and descriptive title would have been "Festering House". (or how about the more succinct "Pus Hut" ???).
There is also a fairly self-explanatory yet interesting subtitle for this film, namely "Zoroku no Kibyou yori". "Zoroku" is the name of the young man stricken with "Kibyou" or "strange disease". So "Zoroku no kibyou" means "Zoroku's Disease". That's the self-explanatory part. The simple addition of the adverb "yori" is the interesting part, since this can easily mean "besides", "beyond" or "other than". When everything is put together you can easily and reasonably derive the impression that this particular house is "ravaged" by something "more than" Zoroku's disease. This may appear like a lot of sheer semantics if you haven't seen the film, but once/if you do, you'll understand why I point this all out.
Healthy and vibrant Zoroku is both an integral part of his small rural community and his immediate family who expectantly look upon his as the heir and care-provider of his parents and younger sister. The younger sister Haruko is particularly close to Zoroku as his kind and protective nature surrounds her with a sense of safety. But in the blink of an eye, Zoroku is stricken with what initially appears to be a serious rash but quickly develops into an all-consuming disease which slowly eats away at his flesh until he is transformed into a festering, unrecognizable mass writhing in excruciating pain.
The parents' first reaction is meager optimism, thinking ample rest might speed his recovery. But to their dismay, his decay and distress increase to the point that their neighbors and even the small village's officials are forced to inquire about Zoroku's whereabouts. Apparently knowing all too well the potential danger in divulging his son's condition, Zoroku's father tries desperately to conceal the matter, not only for his son's sake but also for the fate of the family in the eyes of the community. In their small community, harmonious co-existence must be maintained at all costs if his family is to persist. And as his son's condition continues to deteriorate rapidly, he is forced to contemplate where his priority lies; with his son's survival or with a peaceful cohabitation with his neighbors.
But in such a small village, few secrets can be hidden for long and soon Zoroku's hideous form is revealed to all. The rest is a highly realistic moral message which easily transcends the films period, culture and setting.
I really liked this for its uniquely realistic and non-supernatural depiction of its subject matter. Though similar in tact, I (and plenty of others) felt that Kumakiri's later Kichiku Dai Enkai went overboard regarding (realistic) graphic depictions of violence. Here, however, the tale lies solely within the possible, even probable, should such a parasitic disease have ever surfaced in such a remote village.
The parallel is far from necessary, but one can find similarly destructive village mentality in such episodes as the Salem Witch Hunts in the U.S.. The point being that Ravaged House, and more particularly Hino's own childhood memories, tap into and visually express something quite horribly human, transcending any particular time, region or community.
The more immediately powerful, relevant and meaningful message is clearly on a community level where we are here (and historically) warned against demonizing and ostracizing those who we don't understand or fear. But for the sheer sake of it, let's push it all the way and say this also plugs into Thomas Kuhn's view of paradigm cycles where one widely held paradigm/system of belief slowly erodes and eventually collapses due to an onslaught of new evidence. Consider Ravaged House an eye-witness account of the first irrevocable blow to this town's social evolution. Enlightenment certainly doesn't happen in a day, but its clear there's no turning back after the events depicted here.
Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD (with English subtitles)
|A rather unique tale refusing to invoke supernaturalism or unrealistic fiction to make deliver its palpable message.||Human suffering and familial/communal abuse is front and center here. Nothing blatant or gratuitous.||One hornry attempt refuted with a sharp, rusty tool.||This is low, low budget I admit, but check out the impact of this using a purely realistic scenario. I like it.|