Originally published on That Moment In

Tumbling Doll of Flesh is a 1998 Japanese pornographic horror film about an aspiring actor and actress who agree to making an x-rated movie, filmed by two filmmakers. As their boundaries are pushed to the extreme, their fates become something not even the most horrific mind could conjure up.

Previously covered in this series was the highly controversial and taboo A Serbian Film, which since release has provided audiences with a film that leads to overly heated discussions. Now it’s time to delve a little deeper into the dark world of sexual violence (a theme that is guaranteed to continue through every exploration of the controversial) with a film that may not have quite the exhausted reputation as the former, but should do, due to it’s notoriously horrendous depiction of sexual brutalisation against a woman. The film that we’ll be dissecting together is Tumbling Doll of Flesh (aka 肉だるま Niku Daruma or Psycho: The Snuff Reels and a couple of others).

If you have never seen or heard of this particular movie, let me give you an example of how extreme it is considered to those who know of it, and have had the displeasure of the viewing experience. On YouTube there is a series entitled “10 Disturbing Things You Should Never Google” (We will not link to it here), which includes perturbing videos such as Two Girls One Cup and real beheadings only found in the darkest dungeons of the web. Carefully positioned alongside these monstrosities of life is the film Tumbling Doll of Flesh. Although completely fictional (which can be proven by the various forums online describing in detail how the body does not react as a real body should when hacked to pieces) the film from director Tamakichi Anaru is a splendour of the extreme horror cinema world and often mistaken for a genuine snuff film – even I had to spend some time cross-checking my facts after watching as my inner morality had an overwhelming sense I had just casually viewed a real butchering. But why is it that we often have this impulse to watch the most appalling acts of violence and cruelty, even though we seem to be shocked and disgusting by what we see?

A friend of mine, Damien Riley, mentioned in response to the previous article of this series about how Shakespeare’s plays had served as a catharsis to many viewers who seemed to have a desire to cleanse themselves of the world’s atrocities and also their own sins. If you look throughout history, it’s often commonplace for society to witness these savage scenes and feel as if they are purging their immoral impulses and thoughts through being a bystander rather than partaking in the awful activity. In the Roman era, their form of entertainment was watching Gladiators fight to the death using their bare hands, which is barbarous to the very core yet can be argued that it provided most of the audience with the opportunity to purge from their sinful inclinations without having to partake physically in anything, and therefore keep their souls clean of the dirt that is associated with those acts. The same theory can be applied to modern day society; fortunately for us we now have films that we can use as our cleansing method, yet we all read news articles that detail the unimaginable crimes committed towards others, and we often become curious about the worst of the worst on the Internet. For instance, we may not Google the topics mentioned in the aforementioned video “Disturbing Things Not To Google”, but we are compelled to know what they contain even if they make us feel dirty and covered in depravity. Tumbling Doll of Flesh could be considered the ultimate film to cleanse the soul, or the opposite, which seems a far more reasonable argument to make as this film was crafted only for the sickest of minds.

As the audience, your curiosity is now peaked and you are subconsciously urged by your inner sense to shock and horrify yourself, to find out the moments within this unsettling horror film and potentially even witness them. Firstly we’re presented with some fairly harmless and light pornography, but as with society’s wants, the sexual scenes need to become more intense which is why actress Kana is encouraged by the directors to partake with Kiku in BDSM, which becomes quite rough and uncomfortable with multiple penetrations, lashings and even an enema … What comes to follow is an amalgamation of scenes that will leave a dirty stain on your cerebral core for the rest of your life. Kana is tied up, yet kept conscious which leaves her to endure every nauseating second of being brutally raped by Kiku whilst her arm and leg are savagely severed from her body. It is during these moments that as a viewer you become increasingly aware of your own existence and the actions you are currently partaking in. However, the most diabolical scene from Tumbling Doll of Flesh is as follows; Kana drifts in and out of consciousness, but has some form of awareness of the depravity that is being inflicted upon her body which is now treated like a slab of meat to mutilate and molest. Male actor Kiku cuts open Kana’s abdomen exposing her viscera, and proceeds to have sexual intercourse with her organs, bringing him to a climax.

It is this scene that really reflects how as humans we often are driven by our own secretive passions for the morbid, that lead us into witnessing the most disturbing acts ever imaginable. The purging of the sins we will not commit is capable through outlets such as horror films, because even though a film like Tumbling Doll of Flesh is potentially one of the most disturbing things ever, it’s also not real, which gives our human minds a sense of peace and clarification about watching such a disturbing film.

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