Saturday, January 28, 2012

Whips and Habits

I love the treatment of Christianity in Japanese movies and television. In spite of the fact that Christianity's been in Japan for centuries, it seems to be perceived still as a darling, fetishistic novelty. Though 1974's nunsploitation film, School of the Holy Beast (Seiju Gakuen) takes it all a step further. It's an intensely charming film and I could not stop smiling while I watched it.

The story follows a young woman named Maya, played by the extraordinarily gorgeous Yumi Takigawa.

But the movie is filled with beautiful women, possibly the single greatest concentration of beautiful nuns ever conceived of by the human mind. Maya's joined the convent in order to investigate the murder of her mother, who had been a nun there some years earlier. The world of the convent, Maya finds, is filled with covert lesbian relationships and discipline that always seems to involve being topless.

And, like Flower and Snake, this movie also features a rose whipping scene.

I guess that was big in the 70s Japanese S&M scene.

This is the first nunsploitation movie I've seen, though I can't imagine it'll be the last, as I can't seem to say "nunsploitation" without grinning.

The best frame of reference I had was Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus, which dealt with repressed (or irrepressible) sexuality in a group of nuns more seriously and really much more richly. I suppose it could be considered a precursor of the nunsploitation genre. But the tongue is more firmly in cheek in School of the Holy Beast, when it's not other places.

Then, as now, genitalia couldn't be shown in Japanese film--I thought this was a kind of creative work around--we see this woman's tongue flicking between the other's fingers while the other writhes in ecstasy.

That's the only Caucasian in the movie, though a nun named "Natalie Green" shows up from France at one point to crack down on this notorious convent. No explanation is given as to why Natalie Green is clearly Japanese. What's weirder, though, is the movie's only male character, a bishop who is revealed in one scene to have suffered both at Nagasaki and at Auschwitz in World War II. These facts are just casually tossed out in conversation, rather impressive given the complicated layers of "what the, how the, why the fuck?" it introduces.

So there's not a whole lot more I can say except this was some of the most fun I've had watching a movie in my life.

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