School of the Holy Beast

Japan 1974
Original title: Seijû gakuen

Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Starring: Yumi Takigawa, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe
IMDB: 6.8

Nunsploitation. What the fuck, right? I mean, who thought up this genre? Who even thought it would be a good idea? And why?

Whatever the twisted motivation behind these kind of films, I have to admit that my curiosity was piqued based purely on the outrageous classification - Nunsploitation. It makes me laugh just to say it! Of course it sounded to me like utter and complete trash, and yet I had to at least give it a try.

And lucky that I did, because if this is trash, then its the most artistic and technically competent trash I could ever have imagined. While I was expecting a D-Grade nasty, in actual fact this must rank as one of the best looking films I've ever seen. It really is a testament to the unique qualities of the Japanese studio system that a film featuring lesbian sadomasochistic nuns could end up with production values and artistic merit that exceeds most Oscar winners.

School of the Holy Beast was my introduction to Nunsploitation flicks, so I cannot speak as an expert on the genre. However this is often mentioned as one of the genre's best examples, and its not hard to see why.

At almost 40 years old, the film's technical competence and visual artistry belies the period it was made. Shot in 35mm 'Toeiscope' with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, you can see from these screenshots that the cinematography is pure art.

If you're looking for the Rolls-Royce of exploitation films, then this surely must be it. Despite the gorgeous visuals, the story doesn't shirk the exploitation factor, and has all the gratuitous and lurid content you could hope for. All this is wrapped up in a coherent and valid story (no vapid plot devices here), with an excellent cast.

It goes without saying that those religiously inclined will be extremely offended by the blasphemous nature of the film. Horny priests and masturbating nuns are just some of the depravity on display here.

The director has really not held a thing back, and it interests me to speculate what his feelings were on the Catholic religion. Did he think it so ridiculous and false that it needed to be exposed as brutally as possible? Or was it just that the pure black and white of the nun's habit offered such aesthetically pleasing visual opportunities?

Of course the Japanese predominantly practice Shinto/Buddhism - and so the cultural baggage attached to Christian religions, and the blasphemy thereof, I'm guessing would be largely irrelevant. What's probably most likely though is that Suzuki simply lifted the concept from earlier Italian films with the same theme. Understanding why Italians might have a nun-fetish is certainly much easier to comprehend.

School of the Holy Beast was a real eye opener and is highly recommended to fans of twisted cinema, exploitation films, and top class cinematography. And if you're a Nunsploitation newbie like I was, I doubt you could start anywhere better than here. A true masterpiece of genre cinema.

Rating: 8/10


Alex said...

Wow I can't believe there's been a genre called "Nunsploitation" for at least 40 years and I've never heard of it! This sounds really interesting, and those stills look great. I will have to check it out.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Great review of this masterpiece.

One of my favorite films of all time.

Now that you've wallowed in this, go for Suzuki's BEAUTIFUL GIRL HUNTER next.

This director's work is worthy of a massive retrospective. It's stunning.


Thanks Phantom, and as a matter of fact I have Beautiful Girl Hunter here right now, waiting to be watched at the next available opportunity.

I wonder if any of Suzuki's other films have cinematography to match this one though? I was nowhere near as impressed with Sex & Fury, despite its good reviews. Do you know any other of his films that come up to the standard of School of the Holy Beast?

Joe Monster said...

Superb review here. Those stills are really fantastic. Absolutely gorgeous.

I've heard of Nusploitation before (you're right, it sounds ridiculous) but I never put any thought into actually watching one of the films. This review just may have changed my mind. Good work!

Japan Cinema said...

wow, thanks for leaving a comment on my blog or else I would never have found this cool blog this soon! Looks like I have something to watch tomorrow...


@Joe: Yeah its strange that a niche genre film like this is blessed with such a quality production. Truly a hidden gem.

@JapanCinema: Thanks for dropping by ... great looking blog you've got there! I'm sure I will be a regular visitor, as Japanese films are my personal favorite.

Annono said...

I don't think the nun fetish was something Suzuki found out from Italian movies. I mean I see nun fetish prevalent in Japanese hentai games from a long time ago and even full blown porn.

Clearly it's a fetish the Japanese have. This is mostly because it's alien to the Japanese.

I have always found it's a lot easier to have a fetish about something when you don't have to be exposed to it in real life. Because the real life reality of it ruins the fantasy, because Christianity is rare in Japan then they can fantasize as much about nuns as possible and the truth that 99% of them aren't pretty and aren't even into sex never has to come face to face with them.

Hope that makes sense.


You realise this film was made in 1974 right? I doubt you've seen Hentai games or porn that pre-dates this. There is no question that it is *now* a theme that pops up in Japanese media. But the question is where it originally came from.

I guessed Italian movies, as they did make a few in the nunsploitation genre before-hand... Flavia the Heretic (1974), The Nun and the Devil (1973), Story of a Cloistered Nun (1973), The Lady of Monza (1969) to name a few. Of course there was also Ken Russell's The Devils (1971) and the Polish Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) which were both shown in Japan.

Most likely it was just a trendy exploitation genre at the time. But it's also (slightly) possible it evolved organically by itself, as Catholicism is nothing new to Japan. The first Europeans to visit Japan were Portuguese missionaries, in 1542, who successfully converted many Japanese to the faith. So it's been there for 450+ years. (They had a rough time of it though, which is what Martin Scorsese's new film Silence is about.)

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