The God of Soldiers
The first few minutes of “Caterpillar” do not promise a great movie. Shot on what looks like digital video, with bad special effects of a burning building that look like they were done on someone’s home computer, I figured this was yet another low-budget Japanese horror film.
I was wrong.
Nominated for Golden Bear (director) and winner of the Silver Bear (Best actress) at the Berlin International Film Festival, “Caterpillar” is an intense anti-war film, heavily political and nothing even approaching a horror film. Director Wakamatsu Koji made the film in response to the re-release of Mishima Yukio’s militaristic right-wing movie Patriotism, showing the harsh reality of Japan’s military cult of WWII.
Nominally based off of Edogawa Rampo’s banned short story of the same name (Found in Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination), “Caterpillar” shares only the briefest of association with Rampo’s tale. Wakamatsu changed the setting from the Russo-Sino war (where Japan was the victor) to WWII, and swapped the aggressive roles of the husband and wife.
The caterpillar of the title is Kurokawa Tadashi (Katsuya Keigo), who marched bravely off to war and returned a living torso, lacking arms, legs, hearing or speech. His neighborhood honors him as a living God of Soldiers, but his wife Shigeko (Terajima Shinobu) knows a different side of Kurokawa. Lacking anything else, Kurokawa has been reduced to a being of sensations. He eats. He sleeps. And he wants sex. All the time. Shigeko endures as a good wife should, but her hatred of her caterpillar husband overtakes her. To humiliate him, she dresses him in his uniform and hauls him through town in a horse cart, so that everyone can pay homage to the God of Soldiers.
Wakamatsu allows no glory to be shown in war. In Rampo’s story, the caterpillar sustains his injuries in combat, but in “Caterpillar” it is heavily implied that Kurokawa was injured while raping and killing Chinese farm girls in a burning building. Kurokawa is a decorated war hero, but his behavior mocks and degrades his commendations. His wife Shigeko shows the face of a good wife in public, but behind doors we see the suffering she endures. When Shigeko carts Kurokawa around town as a living idol (reminiscent of Johnny Got His Gun), he is the horror of war personified.
I have seen “Caterpillar” as described as having “explicit sex,” but surprisingly this isn’t true, Wakamatsu is an acclaimed Pink Film director, and although he made films like Go, Go Second Time Virgin, he also has to his credits “Violated Angels” and “Angelic Orgasm.” With “Caterpillar,” even though there a sexual element, there is no nudity or titillation. All of the sex scenes are shown from a distance, from a side-view, where you can see Kurokawa’s limbless body hunching on his wife.
“Caterpillar” is a surprisingly great film; very different from what I was expecting. Terajima Shinobu deserved all of the awards she won in the roll of Shigeko, and director Wakamatsu Koji showed once again that Japan’s Pink Film industry is one of the best proving grounds for talented directors.