David: Beauty Hunting
Star of David: Beauty Hunting truly is amazingly vicious. The director includes one scene of savagery and abasement after another. Over the course of the movie, the protagonist abducts a young bar hostess and, to celebrate his birthday, stabs her in the heart and has sex with her corpse. He goes on to kidnap an idealistic schoolgirl, who is then subjected to countless indignities, tortures, and sexual assaults. Tatsuya does not stop with her, however. He grabs a young pop singer and her assistant, rapes and tortures them, keeps them in cages in his dungeon, feeds the former slop, which she eats without using her hands, like a dog, while crouching, leashed, on the floor. I could go on and on. The movie is absolutely packed with such incidents, all of which are suffused with a poignant sense of horror, although, at the same time, they are also presented in a leering, voyeuristic manner. The director repeatedly trains his camera on the actresses' jiggling breasts and naked torsos, and he revels in their humiliations, their screams, and their despair. What is more, he complements such indulgences by showing the glee Tatsuya takes in inflicting pain and degradation upon his victims.
Oddly, the viewer is likely to find himself engaged with this vile young man. Suzuki does a good job of portraying a disturbed but fascinating character. He reveals how Tatsuya, as a child, is treated roughly by the man he thinks is his father and how he later discovers that man's diaries, which expose the diarist's original hatred for the boy (and his later affection for him) along with photographs of Tatsuya's mother naked and bound with ropes. In his depictions of the character's adolescence, the director shows how the youth combines an ability to fit into society with some very dark personality traits. In one particularly memorable scene delineating the latter, Tatsuya is depicted masturbating to photographs of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Suzuki also portrays the kind of man Tatsuya becomes, one who, though clearly sympathizing with his mother, brutalizes and humiliates women just as his father did. While the viewer is almost sure to see the protagonist's madness, he is also likely to be so enthralled by the young man that he, like an accomplice, involves himself in his deeds and crimes.
The film is, thanks to its subject matter and Suzuki's approach to this, genuinely disturbing, but it is, at the same time, captivating. The director proves himself skilled at conjuring up a world of utter cruelty, one in which one man's joy is found in the sufferings of others. Suzuki forces the viewer, perhaps in spite of himself, to engage with Tatsuya, and to savor the protagonist's bestial feelings, to immerse himself in the man's sadism. The movie is mesmerizing, but it is also likely to leave the viewer fatigued and disgusted with himself.
Such feelings are greatly enhanced by the movie's visual qualities. Star of David: Beauty Hunting is almost always beautiful to look at, though usually in a dark and unpleasant way. Every moment of each of the scenes set in the dungeon below Tatsuya's house is like one of Goya's more horrific paintings brought to the screen. All are gorgeous and repugnant. Suzuki exposes a grim land of narrow spaces, frightening devices, webs of rope, and ominous shadows. This fearful place is, however, made worse by the fact that it is located beneath the elegant, expensively decorated rooms where the protagonist throws gay parties, entertains affluent guests, and chats with his happy, innocent girlfriend. Suzuki, as he almost always does, demonstrates considerable skill in producing a visually appealing work.
I will not claim that Star of David: Beauty Hunting is a masterpiece (it is not), but it is one of the best exploitation films I have encountered.
Review by Keith Allen
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