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School of the Holy Beast - Seijuu Gakuen (Suzuki Norifumi 1974)


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School of the Holy Beast
[Seiju gakuen / Convent of the Sacred Beast]

Genre: Norifumi's Naughty NUNsploitation

review in one breath

When Maya Takigawa enters a Catholic Nunnery to investigate the mysterious death of her mother, she finds a veritable circus of LESBO-ACTION and exuberant flagellation. And when things couldn't seem to get any more bizarre, she learns not only the fate of her mother but also the identity of her heretofore unknown father. This notorious film by equally notorious director Suzuki Norifumi undoubtedly kept millions of young Japanese women from entering the Catholic monastery!


intro

Well, this week the Roman Catholic Church of Dublin published another report this time admitting that over 100 priests have been found guilty of "sexually or physically abusing" a HUGE number of young victims. To my knowledge the report does not mention the use of whips, flogging or LESBO-ACTION, but of course we are still awaiting the report regarding the NUNS...

Given such current events, it is perhaps not wholly inappropriate to here review director Suzuki Norifumi's notorious Convent of the Sacred Beast in which the wilder side (make that every side) of seemingly puritanical nuns literally explodes onto the screen before your very (widened) eyes.

We've recently reviewed two other films by Suzuki Norifumi both of which have been compiled by (Chicago's own!) Panik House into the fabulous Pinky Violenbce Collection. The current film was released on the heels of one of the aforementioned films, the 1973 Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom.

Suzuki Norifumi has had a prolific directorial career with over 55 films under his belt (and several more in which he was assistant director). Regarding the evolution of film genres in Japan, Suzuki is credited with making the rather bold move from producing merely "pink" films, films which (merely) highlighted or emphasized female nudity, to what is known within Japan cinema as "Erotic Grotesque" (Erogeru) in which nudity is combined in varying degrees with traditional Japanese notions of bondage and "torture". Both Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom and Convent of the Sacred Beast (and a host of others) are examples of Suzuki's shift toward erotic grotesque.

And while we are on the subject of "traditional Japanese notions of bondage and torture", it is important to point out that since the Edo Era onwards, the Japanese notion of "lynch" (rinchi) involves tying someone up with ropes, most commonly by wrapping the rope multiple times around the victim's torso and hoisting them into the air to dangle. It BY NO MEANS corresponds to the very dark US connotation of "lynching" used to describe a murderous hanging by the neck, most often perpetrated by white racist mobs against Blacks in the deep South. Thus Japanese film titles such as Lynch Law Classroom or Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition and Torture refer solely (or primarily) to tied up (and subsequently tickled or tormented) buxom babes. This method of binding by rope (of males!) can also be found in mainstream samurai films such as Samurai Trilogy (in which Mifune is dangled for days by a strict disciplinary monk) and Goyokin.

So that's one controversial aspect of the current film. Another is undoubtedly the use of Catholic Nuns (!) as the perpetrators and recipients of the bare-breasted bondage and beatings. (aka B4). Ardent readers of SaruDama may recall in our recent review of Suzuki's earlier Girl Boss Guerilla (1972) that both Catholic AND Buddhist monks (and bald buddhist nuns!) end up in libidinous romps in the futon (not with each other, of course). Thus Suzuki is here expanding on a theme he has briefly indulged in previously.

But as is quickly apparent, this particular convent and pack of nuns is far less "religious" as it is corrupt and self-serving in wholly UN-Christian ways. They may dress and speak quite properly, but only those with a complete ignorance of the Catholic Church will possibly mistake the community Suzuki here uses as the backdrop to his film with the genuine thing. And as someone who knows a little something about theology, believe me when I say that most of the doctrine espoused by our libidinous nuns is in fact diametrically opposite of what it should be. Thus if you are easily offended by cynical or erroneous depictions of the Church, stay far far away from this one. On the other hand, however, Suzuki's explicit depiction of corruption should easily be understood as a complete exaggeration in all respects, making it hard for audiences to feel that they are watching an actual statement regarding religion.

A key meta-narrative of this storyline involves the questioning of one's faith. Thus the main character Takigawa Maya enters the convent highly skeptical of the nuns' beliefs due to her own suspicions regarding the untimely death of her mother. Similarly, several nuns quickly learn how easily and quickly one can fall from the grace and rigors of the convent's blessings, calling into question, of course, the legitimate or reasonable role of the convent as moral judge. And finally, the personal struggles of Father Kakinuma whose experience of the Nagasaki atomic bombing has resulted in near hopelessness provides the linch-pin for this meta-narrative's relation to all the other characters.

To be honest, this film provides a far more substantial story than I was expecting, given this film's reputation. Though chocked full of religious-themed nudity and whippings (etc), the core narrative is a rather compelling tale of REVENGE which actually holds some traction. And I particularly enjoyed the surprise ending which added an incredibly ironic (and profoundly japanese) theological twist to Father Kakinuma's quest for the appearance of his God.

This film marks the debut of Takigawa Yumi who later went on to become a very well-known film and television actress. In interviews she has described her contempt for this film due in part to her not knowing it was of the "erotic grotesque" persuasion. Only after extensive arguments with director Suzuki was she willing to appear here topless. This was the first and last time Takigawa ever did a nude scene (and some say for that very reason the film remained alive all these years). Takigawa plays the main character Takigawa Maya whose courageous investigation into her mother's death ultimately leads to the exposure of the monastery's entrenched debauchery and corruption.

[Trivia time!!: The main character's name "Maya" literally means "Devil's Arrow", alluding to her being a vehicle of divine retribution upon those who falsely pose as God's servants.]

Alongside Takigawa are other veteran actresses and actors such as the sexy Ima Ryouko who appears in a number of Suzuki's film including those mentioned above. Father Kakinuma is played by Watanabe Fumio who has appeared in over 140 films (!), a large number of which are of the "pink" or "erotic grotesque" genres.

verdict

This is in fact recommendable due to its otherwise substantive storyline and cinematic polish. As I said earlier, there was more here narratively than I expected (and in fact less shock value than I expected). The use of nuns within a Catholic monastery as the setting actually works very well at contributing toward a plausible underlying tension of corruption and abuse of power. And in fact there have been many films using the established Church as a backdrop for critique of various scenarios involving an abuse of power regarding authority, secrets, wealth, or what have you.

That said, the less recommendable elements of the film include its fascination with torture and to some extent the obviously fetish enjoyment of seeing nuns succumb to lust and rage. As for the torture, I am at a loss for an explanation, as I do not personally find violence toward women (whether perpetrated by males or females) appealing either emotionally or intellectually. I would much rather see a naked nun smiling wantonly at the camera (or directly at me for that matter!!) than see a naked nun being whipped until bloodied. And I mean... WHO WOULDN'T?? Of course the torture here is nothing so graphic as to be "shocking" (unless of course you've never seen naked nuns whipping each other with cat 'o nine-tails!), but at every scene of such I can't help but be catapulted out of the narrative and into analysis, wondering why in the world scenes like this are necessary or even desireable. (I still don't know the answer.)

Thus I suggest a qualified recommendation. Watching this film certainly won't harm you and certainly does not contain anything morbid or repulsive, but as one commentator puts it, the action scenes in this film are comprised solely of "torture" scenes (though to that I will add there are indeed some "action"-packed sex scenes as well).

Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that if you are able to hand over to the DVD store clerk your selection for the night, a film entitled "School of the Holy Beast (the UNCUT version!)" which has a large NUN emblazoned on the graphic, you're easily half way home.

Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD available at all mainstream venues

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
This actually deserves a negative rating due to all the erroneous theology contained herein! Quite a bit of flagellation (not fellatio) with a creative variety of whips. Whole lotta monastery mammaries floating round here! And don't even get me started on the topic of rapturous cOp-u-LA-tIoN... Okay, two green skulls for being FAR better than I expected. (But what's up with the naked whippings?)

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