“Blind Beast,” directed by Yasuzo Masumura

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By Ray Sawhill

Yasuzo Masumura had studied law and philosophy in college and filmmaking in Rome and he had apprenticed with Ichikawa and Mizoguchi before he began to make his own movies in the mid-1950s.

His 1969 “Blind Beast” is a psychodrama that suggests early Bertolucci (“Partner,” say) crossed with Butoh. It’s a kinky study of a blind sculptor who, with the help of his possessive mom, kidnaps a vampy model; he’s a virgin and an artist, and he wants to put his heightened sense of touch to use creating a masterpiece of sculpture. When the sexy model starts to mess with her naive captor’s mind, mama-san ain’t pleased and the film’s kink-factor goes into overdrive.

Most of “Blind Beast” takes place in a large, stark set whose decoration consists of casts of oversize body parts, as well as two enormous soft-sculptured women’s torsos. The anguished, hysterical characters — who spend a lot of time groping each other — dart and crawl around a stagey space that’s like what Noguchi designed for Martha Graham. It don’t get more primal than that.

My verdict is that the film is divided about 50/50 between the boringly pretentious and the entertainingly perverse. I loved an outlandish early scene, for instance, when the model spies on the sculptor, who is fondling a sculpture another artist made of the model. As the blind sculptor caresses the scupture’s private spots, the model gasps and convulses as though he’s touching her. Whew. It’s all very ’60s, but it’s short, it’s well-lit, and it has a dozen memorable far-out moments. And Mako Midori — who plays the self-centered, amoral model — has a crisp, Carnaby-Street-style beauty, as well as a lot of talent.

©2007 by Ray Sawhill