Japanese horror cinema is always a favourite among fans of the genre, ranging from classics such as Onibaba to relatively recent masterpieces like Takashi Miike’s acclaimed gem Audition. Pioneering artists from Japan have made invaluable contributions to the evolution of the genre, experimenting with the constructs of ghosts and monsters in addition to the crime subgenre.
Many western filmmakers have also derived a lot of influence from Japanese horror cinema, including prominent directors such as Quentin Tarantino and John Carpenter. Tarantino even claimed that one of those Japanese masters – Ishiro Honda – was his favourite practitioner of the sci-fi genre, singling out his 1954 masterpiece Gojira.
While many of the Japanese horror classics are pretty easily accessible through the internet and there are physical copies in distribution as well, the same can’t be said for some of the cult horror films which are pretty hard to come by for global audiences. In 1991, Charlie Sheen managed to get his hands on one of those films which ended up traumatising him.
According to the reports, film critic Chris Gore introduced Sheen to the works of Hideshi Hino – a manga artist from Japan whose unique takes on horror are very prevalent in the shojo circles of the manga community. He even directed two feature films over the course of his career and they are part of the Guinea Pig series which has six main projects.
The two films – Mermaid in a Manhole and Flowers of Flesh and Blood – have gained notoriety due to their explicit depictions of violence, ranging from hardcore torture to mutilation and murder. These scenes were perfect examples of the cinematic sensibilities of many Japanese directors who were working within the exploitation horror genre frameworks.
When Charlie Sheen watched the copy of the film that was handed to him by Chris Gore, he could not believe that this was staged. Instead, the extremely realistic nature of the special effects used by Hideshi Hino convinced Sheen that he was actually watching real footage of a murder that had taken place in Japan.
Troubled by these thoughts, Sheen actually went to the FBI offices and claimed that he had come across a real snuff film that featured the actual dismemberment of a woman. The FBI saw the film as well and confiscated Sheen’s copy, reportedly launching a full investigation into the production and the distribution of Hideshi Hino’s Flowers of Flesh and Blood.
As a result, Hideshi Hino was subjected to legal inquiries about his creation and was interrogated by the Japanese police as well while one of the film’s distributors – Charles Balun – had to insist that everything in the film was created using special effects. The production team had to release a making-of documentary to prove that this was the case.
The documentary was viewed by the FBI as well after which they backed out of the investigation, finally coming to the conclusion that Flowers of Flesh and Blood wasn’t a snuff film. Over the years, many cult horror films have had to go through a similar trajectory including the infamous 1980 exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust.