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The year is 1991, and many members of the Generation Y clan are unknowingly getting their first dose of Splatter Film under the guise of Barry Sonnenfeld’s The Addams Family movie. There is a scene where Wednesday and Pugsley are fencing on stage during a school play and suddenly Pugsley strikes Wednesday’s wrist (“A hit, a very palpable hit!”) and blood squirts out like a geyser when she strikes back and lops off his hand. More blood sprays all over the audience – like the first few rows at Evil Dead: the Musical – as Wednesday gets her throat sliced by her brother. That was the scene which opened a door in many young gorehound’s minds to the possibility of an exaggerated violence the world has never seen…what if an entire film was like this scene?
Fast forward four years and 5,509 miles away to Japan to a film-maker who was crafting his first film, Anatomia Extinction, and planting the seeds to an entirely new vision of the splatter genre – a vision that would give the conventional world – a world filled with stupid rules, like physics and realistic, healthy blood pressure, a huge middle finger.
The Japanese Splatter, or J-Splatter, genre (a sub-genre of J-sploitation) consists of films that showcase extremely exaggerated and over-the-top violence – if a limb gets cut off the resulting blood has to spray out at an insane pressure, creating a blood geyser. The rules of nature, like physics and gravity, are not constant, and the protagonist usually has a cool pose after a brutal kill, Charlie’s Angels style. While it is not necessarily new to the world of Asian cinema, it was rather common in 1980’s Kung Fu movies, this is definitely the renaissance era of it – a period of rapid evolution of the Splat, and the pioneer of this renaissance is Yoshiro Nishimura.
Yoshihiro Nishimura, born in 1967, started early in the world of film – by junior high he was already teaching himself all about special effects and filming, and by age 28 he wrote the screenplay for, and shot his first film – Anatomia Extinction – about a man in a very overpopulated Japan who has an unfortunate encounter with an demented man who chases him and inserts a tumor into his arm. The first half plays out very similar to Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo the Iron Man – from camera angles to music, one could tell Nishimura was heavily influenced by Tsukamoto. The man slowly evolves as a result of the tumor shoved into his arm with voices telling him to take care of the ‘rats’ (people) in the overpopulated land, and by the end of the film he is in a stolen police car running people down – complete with a pedestrian point system akin to Paul Bartel’s 1975 classic Death Race 2000. While the film lacked the Splat he would later become synonymous with, one could tell that this film was the seed of something bigger…something messier…
After Anatomia Extinction, Nishimura took a break from the director’s chair, and over the course of the next twelve years worked on special effects and make up, honing his craft of grossly exaggerated violence in films such as Shozin Fukui’s cyberpunk classic Rubber’s Lover, and Shion Sono’s brain-melting Suicide Club – which has 54 school girls jumping in front of a train (and causing a tidal wave of blood!) in the first five minutes. Then, in 2005, Nishimura worked on a film entitled Meatball Machine which changed his professional life forever…
Meatball Machine, hailed as “a super-gory hodgepodge tongue-in-cheek ultraviolent video game monster mash misfit movie” by Severed Cinema, opens with two mutated beings, known as NecroBorgs – think Power Ranger monsters for adults, complete with flesh-fused blades and Tetsuo-ish Steampunk accessories (drill hands and steam-emitting pipes that don’t really appear to serve any purpose) – slicing and dicing at each other, dueling to the death. Limbs are cut off and blood sprays at 200 psi right before one of the NecroBorgs eats the other’s heart – victory indeed! While the movie itself is a bit of a narrative mess, nobody can deny the insane talent Nishimura put on display with the NecroBorgs and their gory demises.
In 2007, Nishimura took the director’s chair once again and filmed a short film to complement Meatball Machine (never mind that it was two years later) called Meatball Machine: Reject of Death. In this ten minute short, he explores a side story with some of the characters from the original film and we see the start of some trademark Nishimura-isms, such as the motifs of self-mutilation and hyper-sexuality. The film starts with Asami ravaging her arm with a box cutter – at least a gallon of blood seeps out of multiple lacerations before a mysterious red switch pushes its way up from under one of the new wounds. She pushes the switch (wouldn’t you?) and we return to Tetsuo the Ironman-land as Nishimura’s film violently transforms into a visual representation of what cocaine laced with speed does to the brain, complete with frantic editing, hyperkinetic camera-work, and a soundtrack that just makes one want to run 10 miles on their hands while juggling chainsaws with their feet. What about the splatter you ask? From Asami’s nipple detaching and being used as a chained weapon (like a forgotten Cenobite) that affixes onto the center of a guy’s face which explodes, causing his entire face to peel back like a flower, to an Indian chief (?!) being cut in half at the torso by a giant rotating blade and still putting up a fight, the J-splat aficionado will not be disappointed.
It was from this moment on that Nishimura knew his calling in life – hyper-stylized, over-the-top insanity in the form of geysers of blood and creatures straight out of David Cronenberg’s wettest dreams. Now knowing his niche, Nishimura’s next film, Tokyo Gore Police would introduce the Western world to the king of J-splat and all the insanity that comes with it.
Winner of the 2008 Fant-Asia Film Festival’s Best Asian Film award, Tokyo Gore Police is Nishimura’s first commercial film, as well as his seminal work – it still stands as the most outrageous J-splat movie that (tries to) maintain a serious undertone – his later work veered more into a comical real-life-cartoon land, which works very well given how outrageous they get, yet detracts from any attempt to tell a story with a straight face. Tokyo Gore Police takes heavily from Nishimura’s first film Anatomia Extinction – the seed grew into a towering tree – and also added a lot more character development, and of course, the best gore since the third act of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. It also borrows from one of the Western world’s more violent films, Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 Robocop, by taking place in a world where the police force is privatized (like OCP) and utilizes faux pas news footage for exposition as well as fake commercials that satire pop culture – like the ‘Wrist Cutter G’, a stylish and colorful razor blade aimed at teenage girls (“When you cut, it doesn’t hurt that much!”)
The film centers around a specialized task force officer in charge with hunting Engineers – mutants who have the ability to fuse their destroyed flesh with nearby objects – for instance one engineer gets his hand cut off with a chainsaw, thus a hybrid flash/chainsaw grows in the spot his hand was and becomes a weapon. These engineers can spread their curse (gift?) by inserting a key-shaped tumor into a person – usually after their skin explodes open to receive it. Limbs fly, bodies get cut entirely in half down the middle, and dicks get bit off – only to fuse into elephant-sized phallic guns. The entire second half of the movie is one gore-gag after another – from a gun that shoots severed limbs to blood geysers from severed limbs being used as propulsion, to a battle with a fetish-gimp with swords in lieu of arms and legs – the insanity in this film STARTS at 11 and only goes up from there.
While Tokyo Gore Police tried to tell a serious story – albeit VERY tongue-in-cheek – his next three films, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, Mutant Girls Squad, and Helldriver, would transcend the “real” world and create and inhibit a world straight out of a cartoon – a world where physics, such as gravity and inertia, only apply when it is convenient, and bullets can be deflected by simply waving any bladed object, and where dicks and breasts are ALWAYS mutated into weapons – all while outdoing the outrageousness and originality of his previous work, further solidifying the fact that he owns this genre.
The first of three movies in two years time, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, continues the onslaught of super-soaker like arterial sprays and fountains of multiple gallons of blood, and severed limbs flying through the air after some ludicrous over-the-top fight scene as indicated by the face-peeling battle in the first five minutes. The film focuses on a vampire high school student who finds herself in the middle of a teenage love-triangle (think Twilight…with about 320 gore gags as well as 400 gallons of blood pumped throughout). The film escalates from the silly love story to reanimating corpses and blood drinking and crescendos up to an epic and bloody battle on top of Tokyo Tower involving spikes made out of blood!
2010 saw the release of both Mutant Girl Squad and Helldriver – the last two feature length films Nishimura directed, only to be followed by a segment on The ABC’s of Death entitled “Z is for Zetsumetsu,” and the yet-to-be released The Profane Exhibit segment entitled “The Hell Chef.”
Mutant Girl Squad plays like demented Japanese X-Men as the protagonist, Rin, realizes she has special powers – her hand transforms into fleshy metal claws – on her 16th birthday, and she joins a special school for other mutant girls. These girl’s powers range from a girl with the ability to grow a chainsaw out of her ass to a girl who can grow 4-foot katana blades out of her breasts – all surprisingly practical skills in this doppelganger world.
The splatter showcased in Mutant Girl Squad is ridiculous, but then again, it is ultimately the star of the film. Rin’s claws swipe a man’s face into a horizontal slot machine, with all three sections rotating at different speeds – only to explode at the end as well as a jaw-dropping fight involving Chainsaw-Ass and Sword-Tits – MADNESS!
To be fair, Nishimura was joined by two other directors on this film – Machine Girl and RoboGeisha director Noboru Iguchi, and Samurai Zombie and Yakuza Weapon director Tak Sakaguchi – which really formed the all-star team of J-Splat directors – a beautiful amalgamation of twisted minds and the resources to bring their crazy thoughts to life.
The second of his films of 2010, Helldriver, was directed solely by Nishimura and is most assuredly where the bar currently resides in terms of over-the-top gore gags and splatter.
What starts with a single shot of a flower – another motif of Nishimura films, as this is the third of his films to start on a flower – quickly evolves into decapitations, zombies being sodomized with chainsaw-swords, blood sprays – now with more chunks! – and an amazing striptease dance using some dude’s spine as a stripper pole!
The story concerns a segregated Japan in a post-zombie apocalypse. The country is divided in half via a giant John Carpenter-esque wall to separate the zombies – who actually have human rights as dictated by the Japanese Prime Minister, from the rest of the general population. The only way to kill these zombies is to destroy the silly looking tumor that is growing out of their forehead – that same tumor can be harvested illegally and ground into dust for a new addictive drug. As a result of this singular way of destroying them, there are plenty of moments with living heads (think Motel Hell’s garden) being used as projectile weapons as well as various body parts being sentient and self aware sacks of flesh with murderous agendas.
The main antagonist is the protagonist’s mother transformed into some Parasite EVE-like monster that literally ripped her daughter’s heart out to replace her own after an asteroid crashed through her, creating an interesting Dragonheart scenario, still following me?
There is splatter abound as a baby still attached via umbilical cord is swung around like a scene from Ngai Kai Lam’s The Seventh Curse, as well as zombies with chainsaws (because fuck it), as well as severed nipples leading to blood geyser shooting breasts, as well as a vehicle made completely out of severed body parts (the gas pedal is a foot!) There really is no limit of the absurdity of this film’s gore gags, and just when you think you are at the apex of insanity, Nishimura introduces the audience to an eight-legged sword/assault rifle wielding spider-lady and the amazing battle with it, as well as a big samurai dude with about 20 different swords sticking through him, but used as weapons, versus a pickup truck. Yea, you read that right.
The latest available J-splat work by Nishimura is his segment in the 2012 anthology film The ABC’s of Death. Nestled directly after Xavier Gens’ “X is for XXL” and Jason Eisener’s “Youngbuck,” Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu” features a fast-paced television ad (maybe?) complete with splatter galore, a GIANT penis that turns into a sword (of course it does), a Japanese Dr. Strangelove (“My emperor, I can rise!” Pan to erect penis) as well as lots of boobs, and a swastika made of severed legs – cinematic nihilism at its finest! It’s almost as if the fourteen year old Nishimura harnessed the material of both his wet dreams as well as his nightmares (something he is quoted in interviews as saying where he gets his inspiration from) and made a three minute movie of it all. It really is the perfect way to end that emotionally tumultuous anthology – a giant “What the fuck did I just see?”
Nishimura has been quoted as saying his entry in the upcoming The Profane Exhibit “has a completely different atmosphere” than his ABC’s of Death entry – could the king of splat be all splatted out?
While the J-splat genre is seemingly limited to Japan, there are a few equivalents here in the States – most recently with Robert Rodriquez’s Planet Terror as well as his Machette duo. Blood sprays everywhere, intestines are used as ropes, heads explode over-dramatically, and the guy in charge of the squibs is addicted to overkill – and it is beautiful. Another fun example of American Splatter is the original Evil Dead trilogy as well as the final confrontation in the remake – you know the scene, the chainsaw extravaganza! One can only hope the genre transcends nations and becomes a global sensation.
Yoshihiro Nishimura currently has over 75 credits under the category of make-up (he has been dubbed the Tom Savini of Japan – even being nominated in 2008 for the Tom Savini Award for Best Makeup) as well as 40 credits under special effects supervisor, and he is showing no sign of stopping until the world is covered in red.