By the end of the 1960s the major Japanese studios were in financial trouble. To combat the menace of television they decided to chase a younger audience by the time-honoured method of adding more sex and violence. Toei Studios produced their pinky violence films, and Nikkatsu produced their “roman porno” movies, “roman porno” being short for romanic pornography. Noboru Tanaka’s The Watcher in the Attic is one of the more notable examples, and it’s now on DVD.
In fact there’s nothing remotely pornographic about it. It deals with adult subject matter and there’s plenty of sex, but it’s more art film than anything else. It’s based on several short stories by Edogawa Rampo. Rampo was one of Japan’s foremost writers of mystery novels, but his mysteries contained considerable elements of horror, weirdness and sexual perversity. He was a great writer and I highly recommend his stories. The Watcher in the Attic captures the flavour of his tales superbly.
A man hides in an attic, spying on the guests in a boarding house. He witnesses a murder, and becomes obsessed with a high-class prostitute. They become enmeshed in a mutual web of voyeurism, murder and sexual obsession. This story is interwoven with another, about a man whose sexual obsession is to become the chair in which his beloved sits. So he designs a chair that he can sit inside, so that his lover can literally use him as a chair, and pleasure herself at the same time.
It sounds sleazy, but somehow it isn’t (although it’s most certainly perverse). The production values are surprisingly high. This might be an exploitation movie, but it’s not by any means cheap and nasty. The period settings look wonderful. It’s set in 1923, a time when an era of comparative liberalism was about to be succeeded by the militarism and repression of the Showa Era. All Japanese exploitation movies have a political edge to them, and this one is no exception. The acting is exceptional. This is a classy production.
If you like unconventional erotic horror you really can’t go past this one. An excellent movie, and highly recommended. And since it’s from Mondo Mcabro, the transfer is exquisite, there’s a fascinating documentary on Nikkatsu’s 1970s erotic horror movies, an interview with the author of a book on the subject, and loads of trailers. No cult movie fan can afford to be without this one.