Friday, January 30, 2015

School of the Holy Beast

Seiju gakuen; action/ thriller/ crime, Japan, 1974; D: Norifumi Suzuki, S: Yumi Takigawa, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe, Yoko Mihara

A young woman, Maya, enters a Christian convent to become a nun. However, that is only a cover, since she only went there to find out what happened to her mother in that institution, who disappeared. Rebellious as she is, Maya has trouble yielding to strict rules including forbidden sex, parties or alcohol, but finds a friend in the nun Matsuko Ishida. Regular punishment includes whipping and torture. With time, Maya finds out her mother was a nun as well, but became pregnant with the priest and was thus killed by the headmistress to hush it up. Maya takes revenge by killing the headmistress and the priest.

Even though his favorite actresses R. Ike and M. Sugimoto left the film business, that did not stop director Norifumi Suzuki from continuing in the "Pinky film" subgenre with this follow-up film, a bizarre feminist revenge exploitation flick set in a Christian convent. Compared to this, "Charlie Hebdo" is a walk in the park. "School of the Holy Beast" is so untrammelled towards religion that it is almost unheard off, and its scenes are so unbelievable and weird that you do not know if you should be puzzled or simply laugh at the absurdity of its exaggeration, and thus scenes of a nun drinking alcohol or fighting with another nun are almost benign: for instance, in order to punish two girls, the nuns order them to whip each other topless. There is also a moment where Maya wants to take a revenge on the headmistress and thus smuggles a man inside the convent to have sex with the latter, in order to steal her virginity, which culminates with "tremors" that shake even the statue of the Holy Mary in the room; a nun holds a lecture how sex is forbidden and bad, but then one girl from the class points out that nobody of them would be here without it; the headmistress hangs a pregnant (!) nun on Christmas (!!)... However, since the film has no pretensions, it can simply be perceived as a one giant joke and relaxed fun, since if the viewers are willing to watch with an open mind, they will find it to be a grand 'guilty pleasure'. The only deeper, truly serious messages are about certain Totalitarian tendencies in (extremist) religion, but Suzuki clearly shows his intent was just to entertain and not to attack, whereas the main actress Yumi Takagawa is great. A slight problem sometimes, though, is that the actresses are indistinguishable from one another when wearing the identical nun's wardrobe which only reveals their face, but the narrative is rather clear.


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