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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

The Watcher in the Attic

The Watcher in the Attic
1976 (2008) - Mondo Macabro

After almost 31 days of zombies, vampires, hackers, slashers, ghosts, ghouls and every other damn thing that can and will go bump in the night, it's time to dim the lights, soften the mood and get a little romantic. Of course, this is still Oktoberfest, where even romance carries more than a little dread along with it. So let's turn our attention to Japan and the "Roman Porno" line of films produced by the Nikkatsu studio throughout the 1970s. Specifically The Watcher in the Attic, an odd tale of sexual obsession based on the work of Japan's answer to Poe, Edogawa Rampo.

Taking place in 1920s Tokyo, the titular Watcher (Renji Ishibashi) peers down on his fellow boarding house tenants from small holes drilled into the floor of the attic.

One woman in particular catches his eye: a wealthy young woman (Junko Miyashita) trapped in a passionless marriage who we first encounter having a tryst with a clown. She realizes she's being watched immediately and loves it. His presence goads her on to more and more perverse acts, eventually to murder. The Watcher is an implicit accomplice, having seen the whole thing and kept it to himself, so she brings him closer. Meanwhile, the Watcher isn't her only admirer. She's also the object of her chauffeur's obsessive affections. Indeed, he's had a chair built especially for her that he can climb inside so he can feel her sit upon him.

Needless to say, The Watcher in the Attic isn't exactly a conventional horror picture. For that matter, it's not even a conventional sex film. I've seen movies with more explicit, more deranged acts of perversion. (Before you get too excited, the term "Roman Porno" does not imply anything even remotely hardcore the way the term might to us Americans.) But very few movies put you so squarely in the mind of the obsessed individuals. The movie is at its best exploring the link between voyeurism and exhibitionism. There are plenty of movies about voyeurism but relatively few where the watcher finds someone who likes to be watched. As directed by Noboru Tanaka, The Watcher in the Attic presents a sealed-off, claustrophobic world that our protagonists are unable (and frankly, unwilling) to escape. It isn't always fully engaging, at least to Western audiences, but at its best, it's surreal, disturbing and bizarrely sexy.

The endlessly cool folks at Mondo Macabro have brought The Watcher in the Attic to DVD with a handsome anamorphic transfer and a decent audio track. Extras are brief but all 100% top-notch and truly enhance your appreciation of the film. Pete Tombs contributes two informative, well-written text pieces, one about Nikkatsu studios and another specifically about the film. A documentary called The Erotic Empire focuses on Nikkatsu and the Roman Porno series with interviews of such luminaries as filmmaker Seijun Suzuki and film historian Jasper Sharp. Sharp returns for an on-camera interview focused specifically on The Watcher in the Attic. You also get trailers for a number of Nikkatsu films, including this one, Assault! Jack The Ripper (also newly available from Mondo Macabro), Naked Rashomon, The Sins of Sister Lucia and others. Finally, the ubiquitous, beyond-awesome More from Mondo Macabro promo rounds out the disc.

Virtually unknown in America for decades, there has been an explosion of wild, reissued 60s and 70s Japanese cinema in this country in the past few years. The Watcher in the Attic isn't necessarily the best of those but it's a fascinating, distinctly Japanese exploration of the darker corners of sexual obsession.

Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B-/B+

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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