Watcher in the Attic Review (1976)

Watcher in the Attic Review (1976)

English Title Watcher in the Attic
Japanese Title Edogawa Rampo ryōkikan: yaneura no sanposha
Kana Title 江戸川乱歩猟奇館 屋根裏の散歩者
Director Noboru Tanaka
Release Date 1976
Distributor Nikkatsu
Sub Genre Ero Guro

Part of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno line, Watcher in the Attic is an adaptation of ero guro pioneer Edogawa Rampo’s short story of the same name. Following on from A Woman Called Sada Abe, the film is the second in director Noboru Tanaka’s ‘Showa Era Trilogy’, a thematically linked series adapting erotically grotesque stories and events from Japan’s early Showa and Taisho eras.

Set in 1923, Tokyo Watcher in the Attic focuses on the eccentric tenants of a boarding house owned the aristocratic Lady Minako. The most peculiar of the tenants is Goda, a man who spies on the other inhabitants through peep holes in the attic. During one of his peeping sessions he spots Lady Minako engaging in sex with one of the tenants. Lady Minako spots him however and over the following weeks returns to be watched by Goda. The unspoken relationship soon turns to murder when he witnesses Minako strangle her clown lover in front of his eyes. The watcher soon becomes obsessed and sets out to commit the perfect murder himself in order to win her affections.

Based on a short story, Watcher in the Attic is something of a plotless movie. For as much as it adds to the narrative by incorporating another of Rampo’s stories The Human Chair and the murderous lovers angle, the plot still feels rather incidental. Given the short run time of just 76 minutes however this isn’t much of an issue, as what impresses is the film’s visual style. Director Noboru Tanaka has come to be known as perhaps the best director of the Roman Porno wave thanks in part to his attention to detail ambitious choice of projects, and no more is that evident than here.

The most impressive thing about the film is its sustained atmosphere of ero guro, or erotic grotesque nonsense. Whilst the term has come to be misconstrued to mean ‘gore’ (of which there is very little) Watcher in the Attic is a perfect example of the movement as it meant in the Taisho and early Showa in which Rampo was active.  This is obviously aided by being set in 1923, just two years before the original story’s publication date. Despite the low budget Tanaka’s vision of the era is nonetheless impressive. Thanks to the impressive set design and cinematography the film manages to sustain its run time despite the limited plot and lack of locations.

You would think that in adding to Rampo’s original story the effects would be lessened, but in fact it only strengthens the premise of the novel. Despite being a meeting between the protagonists of Watcher in the Attic and The Human Chair the film still manages to feel cohesive and only adds to the film’s mood. All of the characters, including the victims are detestable, and if you’re somebody that needs a character to associate with the film probably isn’t for you. It wallows in its own decadence and without being too nasty about it creates a film that really is a great mood piece, which is great for fans of Italian gialli, or even the recent Handmaiden.

If the term Roman Porno puts you off, don’t let it as the film is no more explicit than any given episode of Game of Thrones. Compared to other pinku films by Nikkatsu, Watcher in the Attic is relatively tame, with much of its eroticism coming from voyeurism and subtext rather than explicit nudity. The film definitely isn’t for everyone given its cast of sleazy characters and lucid pace, but fans of the ero guro aesthetic or atmospheric film making are bound to discover a new cult favourite.

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Craig Hatch
Craig Hatch 35 posts

Horror Japan is Craig Hatch, a Brit currently living in Tokyo, Japan. Horror Japan is a project that aims to review and collate media from all aspects of Japanese horror culture.

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Editor review

Rating
4/5

4

Good
4
Summary

If the term Roman Porno puts you off, don’t let it as the film is no more explicit than any given episode of Game of Thrones. The film definitely isn’t for everyone given its cast of sleazy characters and lucid pace, but fans of the ero guro aesthetic or atmospheric film making are bound to discover a new cult favourite.