A classic of Japanese horror literature
Edogawa Rampo is an author as famous for movie adaptations of his work as he is for his own fiction. Like his namesake Edgar Allen Poe (Taro Hirai uses the penname Edogawa Rampo because of the phonetic similarity to Poe, read Edogaw Aram Po), Rampo’s works have spawned an entire genre of film in Japan, from works about the author such as The Mystery of Rampo, to films made from his short stories such as Rampo Noir to more direct adaptations such as Fukusawa Kinji’s adaptation of Black Lizard staring Mishima Yukio. But by far one of the most captivating, intriguing and over-all successful adaptations of Rampo’s work is Masumura Yasuzo’s Blind Beast.
Now, I have watched and loved Masumura’s “Blind Beast” for years, but had never read the original story it was based on. As popular as Rampo’s films are, English-language translations of his work are very rare, for the longest time being only Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination, an adaption overseen by Rampo himself. Finally, some more of Rampo’s works are making their way into English, and none is more appreciated or anticipated than Shinbaku’s translation of “Moju: Blind Beast.”
If you haven’t seen the film, “Blind Beast” is the story of an obsessive blind man who hungers after art based on touch alone. Deprived of sight, he lives through his fingertips and what he can caress. Nothing gives him more pleasure than the female form, and he has dedicated his life to finding its perfection. After discovering a statue of cabaret singer Mizuki Ranko, he kidnaps her and takes her to his specially crafted dungeon decorated in massive sculptures of the female form. Giant walls of arms, noses and eyes surround the phatasmagoric scene, with a huge sculpture of a woman’s legs and torso dominating the floor. There, the blind beast toys with and tortures Mizuki until she too comes to understand the beauty of living in world of darkness and touch.
Even if you have seen the film, the transition of Mizuki Ranko is only the opening chapters in this original story. I was surprised to find that Masumura clipped Rampo’s original for his film, and that the blind beast has a much longer career as an artist/murderer than I had imagined. After he is finished with Ranko, he goes off in search of more perfection, finds it and plays with it until he hungers for something fresh.
Edogawa Rampo’s genre is ero-guro, meaning “erotic grotesque,” and that truly describes the story of “Blind Beast.” The beast himself has a refined sense of humor and an artistry of soul, disposing of his victims in ways guaranteed to bring the most shock (such as tying an arm to a bunch of balloons in the park and then encouraging nearby children to chase the balloons and catch them when they come down). Even in the day of serial-killer heroes like Dexter on TV, I managed to be shocked by the degradation of Rampo’s protagonist.
Rampo’s fiction always leaves me filling a little stained, like reading a serial killers diary and getting a glimpse into the mind of insanity. His work is unique, and “Blind Beast” is unique amongst his works. I am used to reading Rampo’s short stories, but at a hundred and twenty five pages this is the longest time I have spent in his world. Creepy, to say the least.
Shinbaku has done a good job with the presentation of “Blind Beast.” The book included illustrations from a Japanese edition, although for some reason the captions of the illustrations have not been translated. The introduction by Jack Hunter (Eros in Hell) is good and gives some insight into both Masumura’s film and Rampo’s original story. If I had a complaint about this, it is that the writing in the translation is often stiff and “Blind Beast” would have benefited from a secondary adaptation of the translation to smooth out the English and create a better reading experience. But even with a some-what rough translation, having “Blind Beast” available at all is a treat not to be missed.