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Cult Epics presents
School of the Holy Beast (Seiju gakuen) (1974)

"I'll test your Christian faith. Get the salt water."
- Natalie Green (Ryouko Imu)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 29, 2005

Stars: Yumi Takigawa, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe, Ryouko Ima
Other Stars: Harumi Tajima, Fumio Watanabe
Director: Norifumi Suzuki

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sexuality, self-flagellation, violence, torture, rape, urination, gore)
Run Time: 01h:31m:11s
Release Date: August 30, 2005
UPC: 881190003398
Genre: cult


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BAC B-

DVD Review

Although much of the nunsploitation boom of the 1970s came from Italy (which is hardly surprising, considering the dominance of Catholicism there), similar efforts were also lensed in other countries. A rather unique take on the cult subgenre is this Japanese picture that contributes its own warped Eastern sensibilities to an already twisted scenario.

Maya Takigawa (Yumi Takigawa) has one last fling with her boyfriend before entering the St. Clore Abbey as a novice. There she meets free spirit Sister Matsuko Ishida (Emiko Yamauchi), and although they share a contempt for the authoritarian order, they also have something of a conflict since Sister Ishida believes Maya is a spy for the Vice Abbess. But what Maya is really after are answers as to why her mother, Michiko Shinihara, died in the convent, and whether the cause was really a heart attack as officially claimed. Along the way, Sister Maya comes in contact with the de rigeur lesbian nuns, flagellants, torture and sin.

What the film avoids is any overt supernatural explanation for the goings-on, such as we see in the somewhat similar Satanico Pandemonium. There is a witch-hunter, Natalie Green (Ryuoko Ima), who arrives to make things even worse than they started off, but although there's more torture and nastiness involved once she appears, the possession aspect that is frequently a component of such films is missing. Noteworthy, however, is the presence of a sinister white cat during many of the nastier scenes. This very well could be a symbolic and subtle nod to this common aspect of the nunsploitation subgenre. There's also an atomic bomb subtext here, for the convent is located near Nagasaki and the sinister Father Kakinuma (Fumio Watanabe) bears radiation scars across his back, not just scars of flagellation. This isn't just incidental, for director Suzuki intercuts shots of radiation victims from Nagasaki with the atrocities at the convent, equating the two as horrors visited upon Japan by the West.

Star Yumi Takigawa turns in a reasonably good performance for her first starring role (she would later go on to be a television star in Japan, notwithstanding her prominence in this picture). She has a bitter determination behind her striking features, and even though she's ostensibly the heroine she also gets the enjoyment of being wicked in spots: she even smuggles two men, dressed as nuns, into the convent to rape the aptly-titled Vice Abbess, who had punished one nun severely for possessing pornographic pictures, but then kept the photos for her own enjoyment. Yayoi Watanabe is affecting as a nun who tries desperately to hide her pregnancy, and Yamauchi is darkly comic as a Nipponese version of Rachel Devery.

Sisters Takigawa and Ishida do a fair amount of mocking of the church, even though the order is supposedly famous for its discipline. There's the standard error of considering the Immaculate Conception to refer to Jesus rather than his mother Mary, a point likely to irk Catholics and lapsed Catholics alike. There are also some unanswered questions, such as why exactly the Abbess has a trap door leading to an acid pit in her offices. But on the whole there's a lot of nunsploitation fun, with all the requisite perversion, sex, nudity, gore and torture wrapped in religious hypocrisy that makes this genre so entertaining. It's definitely one of the best of its type, if only for the delirious sequence during which Sister Takigawa, bound nude between pillars by brambles, is mercilessly whipped by the nuns using rose branches. The result is poetic and oneiric, as the rose petals rain down upon her in slow motion, mingling with her blood. It's completely nuts and one of the great moments in the subgenre.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Even though the keepcase declares that this picture is presented in 1.85:1 ratio, it's actually 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image is somewhat grainy and slightly soft, but it's very well-rendered. Colors are vivid and greyscale is excellent. Textures come across quite nicely. Very little artifacting or aliasing is visible; Cult Epics has done its usual fine job with a beautiful source print.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoJapaneseno


Audio Transfer Review: The original Japanese mono is presented in 2.0. There's some hiss and crackle, and music is quite distorted and clipped. The whole affair is slightly noisy throughout, but it's passable for what it is.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:07m:32s

Extras Review: Two documentaries are provided. The first is a candid chat with Yumi Takigawa, who professes to not having been aware this was an erotic film until she had already gotten deeply involved. She's bemused at the idea that this picture is making it to DVD, while others (presumably non-cult) that she thinks are superior languish unreleased. She's quite candid about the experience, and recognizes in hindsight that it was in fact good for her career. The second is a broad-ranging discussion of the pinku and the erotic-grotesque trend in Japanese film during the 1970s with critic Risaku Kiridoushi. He also provides some valuable insight as to the importance of Nagasaki, as the spot where Catholic missionaries first arrived in Japan. Oddly, all of the film clips in these documentaries are presented squeezed into a 1.33:1 frame, mostly utilizing a French dub instead of the original Japanese. The final extra is an anamorphic widescreen trailer with English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Nunsploitation Japanese style, with a fair amount of flair. The video transfer is dandy though the audio has some limitations. Two valuable featurettes make for good support.

 


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