The Organ Grinders
Numata (Kenjin Nasa), a tough cop, and his partner Tosaka are on the trail of a gang of human organ thieves that have been preying on runaways and homeless. When the gang picks up an unconscious man, the detectives follow them back to “the slaughterhouse”, an old warehouse where the organs are harvested. But they’ve been lured by the gang into a trap and are captured – destined to take their place among the victims. Before that can happen, the tables are turned on the thugs and the cops pose as part of the gang.
Inside, they meet a vicious one-eyed woman named Yoko (Kei Fujiwara), who supervises the operation for the masked doctor (Kimihiko Hasegawa) in charge. During this confusing first act, the two cops are captured again, escape again, are captured again, escape again – much in the manner of a compacted adventure serial. Except this is a serial far, far bloodier than any Republic chapterplay ever dared to be.
During one of the struggles (in which men are stabbed, acid is thrown, shots are fired, etc.) Numata is injected with something by the doctor. Tosaka manages to get away with his skin intact, but with something broken in his mind. Numata disappears without a trace, and is presumed dead by his superiors.
Tosaka is not beloved by his department by any means, and his record of losing partners leads many to believe he sacrifices them to get ahead himself. He is kicked off the force and demoted to toilet cleaner, but is haunted by visions of Numata suffering in agony.
Numata’s twin brother, also a cop, takes up the case, pursuing the organ gang while hoping to find his missing brother. Tosaka drifts in a haze, his life falling to pieces. Meanwhile, the news reports a girl’s disappearance from her school. Another is about to go the same way, as she visits biology teacher Jun Soeki – the masked doctor in his cover identity working for a girls’ school. Soeki has a gooey sore on his side as a result of one of his experiments, and Numata attached to a plant – with his arms and legs cut off. His student, who has been getting bad marks, seduces him, but doesn’t live long enough to see her grades improve.
Treating his pain and illness with drugs, Soeki has gory hallucinations – a human born from chrysalis, bloody deaths, etc. His sister Yoko warns him about murders, fearing they’ll draw attention. We see in flashback how their crazy mom nearly castrated Jun, and knocked Yoko’s eye out with a nine iron. Their father gets a doctor, but mom kills him, and runs off with the children. Later, her body is found in the woods, and the kids are gone.
Soeki’s disease is consuming him, and almost his entire body is covered in oozing sores. A slinky fellow teacher gets too nosy about his experiments and tries to cut in on the action. Like every other character in the film, she acts a bit freaky.
Tosaka and Numata separately clash with yakuza, but always get a little closer to finding the other Numata. There’s a series of bloody and savage encounters, as organ harvesters, gangsters, and cops battle to – what else? – an ultraviolent climax.
Kei Fujiwara, who’d starred in Shinya Tsukamoto’s groundbreaking Tetsuo: The Iron Man in 1988, first produced Organ on stage for her Organ Vitale theater group. A long-running success, she rewrote the story into a screenplay, with which she made her directorial debut.
Though the plot is hard to follow, Organ emerges as one of the better entries in the new wave of Japanese horror films. Nearly every frame has something unpleasant going on – there’s so much gory violence that it’s surprising when some occurs offscreen! The make-up effects have that gritty edge that made even Lucio Fulci’s lesser horror films disturbing. Amid the horror, there’s also beauty – some shots are so lovely that they become disturbing themselves. It’s shocking to see beauty in a world of ugliness. With its cops and robbers elements, Organ is a bit like gore film noir, with each character sinking ever deeper into their own doom. The pace is relentless and dizzying.
The soundtrack is a wonderful mix of pulsing electronic music and hellish moans and growls, perfectly punctuating the visual nightmare.
Shot on 16mm, the full screen transfer looks surprisingly good. The feature is in Japanese dialogue only, but contains removable English subtitles. There’s a 22-minute preview of the sequel, narrated by a woman with a Japanese accent (the director?). It shows more of the same goings-on, set in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully Synapse will carry it as well. The DVD menu is difficult to navigate – besides the preview, it only leads to trailers of other Synapse titles: Brain Dead and Vampyros Lesbos.