For many critics and movie-lovers great filmmakers can be separated into one of two groups: Hollywood directors who make great, artful cinema for a popular audience despite commercial demands (Coppola, Kubrick, Malick), and the art-house cinemaphiles whose best work neither appeals to a common sensibility nor tries to (Deren, Anger, Vertov, David Lynch often).
Hideshi Hino belongs to the latter group, but most of his colleagues would probably hesitate to count him among their ranks. His cinema lies somewhere between a Troma film and Noé’s Irreversible. Italian Ruggero Deodato of Cannibal Holocaust fame is perhaps the only director who truly shares Hino’s vision. Like Deodato, Hino was the subject of a police inquiry because his work was too violent and way too real to be the work of a sane man.
When American and Japanese investigators watched his seminal psuedo-snuff masterpiece Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood they were convinced the on-screen violence was real. And you can hardly blame them: the movie itself purports to be an actual snuff film sent to Hino by a crazed fan. The plot, loose as it is, consists of a florist killing ladies to use their dismembered body parts for floral arrangements. It’s a 45 minute gore-fest non-pareil that looks as genuine and terrifying today as it did in 1985. The movie famously scared the shit out of Charlie Sheen whose exposure to the movie moved him to report it to the MIAA (and they to the FBI).
Today Hideshi Hino teaches at the Osaka University of the Arts in, as described hilariously by Japanese Wikipedia, the “Department of molding character.” If that translation even approaches reality, we should expect police to find an enormous cache of bodies in the Yodo River any day now.
Vice Japan’s Tomo sat down with Hino for this chat.
Vice: What was the impetus for making an ultra-violent movie like Guinea Pig?
I seem to have had some fans among the production team of Guinea Pig 1; during the wrap-up party for Guinea Pig 1, my name was apparently mentioned so the film’s producer paid me a visit. As a manga author, I felt I should create a story-driven film, but the producer said they didn’t have the budget for that. Instead, they said, I should limit the shooting to one location and shoot long takes with minimal cutting. I really wondered whether I could even make an interesting film under those restrictions. At the time, there was huge hype about urban legend snuff films in Japan, so I decided to make that the theme of the work. It would be boring if I depicted it in a straightforward manner, so I created a premise for the film, that one day a crazed fan sends me a roll of 8mm that turns out to be a snuff. Since it’s impossible for me to release snuff as-is to the public, I must remake it into a “movie,” which is what the audience sees. Anyway, I wanted to completely omit any kind of moral theme or anything else that would reveal the main character’s feelings.
In your manga, story is always an important element. What was it like to move away from narrative in your film?
Well for this particular film, there was significance in removing the story. But that proved to be problematic because without a visible ‘story’, it ended up being too close to a genuine snuff film. At the time, the journalist Taro Kimura asked film critic Haruo Mizuno on a television news program “Is this sort of video really necessary in this world?” to which Haruo Mizuno replied "No, absolutely not. Hollywood horror films at least have some sort of moral theme or storyline, but this is just meaningless violence.” As if I wasn’t aware of that! How dare they suggest that my film is inferior to a Hollywood horror flick? That’s the whole point of my work. I couldn’t believe how utterly juvenile they were being.
I managed to rent Guinea Pig 2 from a Koenji video store, but I thought it had been banned altogether? Is that not the case?
It was still there?! As you just said, all copies of Guinea Pig 2 have supposedly been withdrawn. At the time, boards of education throughout Japan examined the film and were horrified, which lead to every copy of the film being withdrawn. I considered that a great success.
Definitely! For a horror author, the ability to create work that generates real terror is probably the highest achievement, right? Even if its actual structure doesn’t stick with an audience, the terror lingers.
I’d say that’s true. However, I was not aware that this had become even more topical in Europe and the USA than in Japan. Its DVD has been released in America, and you can’t seem to find anyone in the European or American horror industry unaware of Guinea Pig 2. The year before last I was invited as a guest to the “Horror Film Festival” held annually in San Sebastian in Spain and we had a screening party for Guinea Pig 2.
Tell me about Charlie Sheen reporting you to the FBI.
Actually, that was the first thing the American media asked me when the US version came out, but I didn’t really have much information about it myself so I ended up asking them about Charlie Sheen and whether the FBI is really going to take action. “They have already taken action” was the reply, so I said “Let me meet these FBI fellows. I love them in the movies.” They took that as a joke and laughed.
At the time, were you involved in any legal cases due to this work?
The matter never made its way to court, but I was plagued with a variety of difficulties. First of all, around that time the “Ayako-chan incident” took place. A number of people in the audience of the movie who learned of the Ayako-chan incident from the news thought that the killer may have watched and then imitated Guinea Pig 2, and notified the Fukagawa Police. They contacted me and wanted to ask about the psychology of the main character. I agreed to talk about it, so along with my producer we scheduled a time to hold the conversation a few days later. Before that could happen, Tsutomu Miyazaki, the perpetrator of the crime, was apprehended. Later a video from the Guinea Pig series was discovered in his room but it was Guinea Pig 4: a video I had nothing to do with. Unfortunately, the Fukagawa Police viewed Guinea Pig 2 just before arresting Miyazaki. They didn’t know Guinea Pig was a series, so as soon as they heard a Guinea Pig video had been found they thought it was Guinea Pig 2. The Fukagawa Police reported to the press corps that they’d found my movie in the room. By that evening the misinformation was widespread.
That’s the power of the media for ya. What happened next?
I wasn’t totally convinced that they’d found my tape so when things settled down I paid the Fukagawa Police a visit. I asked them to check if it was Guinea Pig 2 they’d found or not. The detective there at the time actually said “Why are you worried about that now? The whole incident made you a hot topic so you’re no doubt richer and more famous from this, right?” I’m not kidding. Unfortunately, since I was hired as a director, the sales are irrelevant. The guy also said something like “Personally, I find porn more valuable than your film”.
Did the incident have an impact on your manga work at the time?
It did. There were three or four compilations planned for publication, but they ended up being prohibited. I’d also shot another story-driven video for the Guinea Pig series called Mermaid in a Manhole. At the time of the incident there was talk of making a film version of Mermaid for theatrical release – we’d even started the early preparation for filming. It would have been my first real movie, and I was really excited to get to work, but immediately before shooting was to begin the Tsutomu Miyazaki thing occurred. The media hounded the production company so much so that the Miyazaki incident overshadowed the whole thing, making it impossible for us to carry on with the film.