Tanaka Noboru
Mondo Macabro

Seeking to cash in on the popularity of the “Pink Film” movement that had begun to blossom and dominate the Japanese film market, Nikkatsu Studios, Japan’s oldest major studio, instituted their own line of eroductions in 1971. Referring to them as Romantic Pornographic or Roman Porno, these films saw to mimic the racy characters and situations that smaller independent films had found success with but with the added benefit of higher production values. Shot on minuscule schedules with usually only one or two primary locations, Roman Porno directors often found such productions quite liberating as they where given carte blanche as long as they turned in a finished product that included a predetermined number of sex scenes. In THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC (Yaneura no sanposha) director Tanaka Noboru weaves a murderous tale of voyeuristic depravity and overpowering sexual lust that result in earth shaking consequences.

Unaware that a voyeur spies on their private lives perched above their heads, the occupants of a Tokyo boarding house tend to their day to day activities. A young man (Renji Ishibashi) who despises any personal interactions with his neighbors routinely sneaks into the attic through a crawlspace in his closet and spies on the lives of his fellow tenants through knotholes in the ceiling. While insignificant between the walls of the boarding house above them, looking down the young man becomes empowered, a master above all he observes. Between spying on his artistic neighbor and the noisy priest next door, the man is uncovered while gazing upon a woman (Junko Miyashita) having sex with a man dressed as clown. Enraptured by the thrill of being spied upon, the woman kills her suitor, strangling him with her thighs while he gasps for air in her bosom. Intoxicated by the woman and the power that each holds over the other, the young man decides that the only way to level the playing field and become worthy of his new obsession is to commit a murder himself. With no one in the boarding house safe from the deadly duo, it will take a force of nature to prevent the couple from fully indulging in their lethal game of love.

Based on several stories by acclaimed detective and horror writer Edogawa Rampo, THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC is an unusual picture that starts off relatively slow, with very little dialogue, but gradually and capably builds on a surreal sexual mood that is ultimately rewarding. There is an ethereal aspect to the time spent in the attic that when juxtaposed against scenes of brutal clown sex feels oddly appropriate to the strange and grotesque source material of Rampo’s writings. Of particular note is the inclusion of Rampo’s bizarre story "The Human Chair", in which one man conceals himself in a La-Z-Boy recliner so that the object of his desire might unwittingly lounge on him in the nude. Renji Ishibashi, a prolific actor who can be seen in a number of recent Takashi Miike films, portrays the role of the voyeuristic boarder with a bored pathos that it is equal parts ambivalent and malicious. You just can’t get a read on the guy unless he is in the attic, the one place where he feels in control, an emotion that Junko Miyashita’s character helps to bring out with deadly consequence. A Nikkatsu Studio “Queen”, Miyashita is the very definition of a femme fatale. Alluring and uninhibited, her actions are at first surprising but become second nature as the film progresses. With numerous scenes of dead silence, the film doesn’t pick up until her character strangles her clown lover to death with her thighs, but from that point on you can't take your eyes away from her in interest as to who and how she will kill again.

Mondo Macabro presents THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC in a brand new anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer from the original negative. The print source is exceedingly clean, without a hint of grain or debris. Detail is quite sharp with soft but accurate coloring, most notable in several dark attic scenes that feature shafts of light piercing the gloom of the dusty loft. Presented with its original Japanese language track, the audio sounds clear without any noticeable imperfections. While optional English subtitles flow naturally and are easy to read, you could easily follow the picture without them as it is not as important what each character is saying as it is what the action says about the character.

Brief essays about Nikkatsu Studios and the film itself kick off a host of welcomed extras. "The Erotic Empire" is a 24-minute documentary on the Nikkatsu Studios Roman Porno era, with special attention being paid to THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC and director Tanaka Noboru. The documentary short is extremely informative, vastly entertaining and highly recommended to anyone interested in Japanese cinema or topless Japanese women. Film historian Jasper Sharp, author of Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema, provides a ten minute interview that further details the film and its central cast. Topping off another impressive release from Mondo Macabro is a collection of original Nikkatsu Studios trailers that includes THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC, NAKED RASHOMON, THE SINS OF SISTER LUCIA, FEMALE PRISONER: CAGED and ASSAULT! JACK THE RIPPER along side their ever popular and ever expanding promo reel. (Jason McElreath)