Original title: Seijû gakuen
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Starring: Yumi Takigawa, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe
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.