School of the Holy Beast (1974)
By: J.R. Gregory on July 23, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Cult Epics (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0. English subtitles. 94 minutes
The Movie
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Starring: Yumi Takigawa, Emiko Yamauchi, Yayoi Watanabe, Fumio Watanabe, Hayato Tani, Ryouko Ima, Marie Antoinette, Kyouko Negishi
Screenplay: Masahiro Kakefuda, Norifumi Suzuki
Country: Japan
External Links
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There is something about nuns and the whole concept of locking oneself away for a single, devout purpose that fascinates. Why would a person do this and deny themselves the experience of life? What happens to their ideas of pleasure, their earthly desires? Surely under those robes and behind the pious demeanour there lies a twisted, perverted sexually rapacious soul?

From these questions, numerous exploitation, or nunsploitation if you prefer, films have been released. From Ken Russell's The Devils to Walerian Borowczyk's Behind Convent Walls and the tireless Jess Franco and Joe D'Amato output, much has been presented to tantalise and titillate. Each of these comes from a culture that is familiar with Christianity and Catholicism, but what would be an outsider's take on this? One answer: Norifumi Suzuki's 1974 classic of the genre, School of the Holy Beast. Derived from the manga that the director had written, this film contains all the nudity, sex, torture and blasphemy that one would expect and wish for. Add to this the beautifully shot and artistic flourishes and School of the Holy Beast is simply beyond anything else in the field.

We meet our heroine Maya Takigawa (Yumi Takigawa) in the opening credit sequence where she is out enjoying the sights and sounds of Tokyo; an ice hockey game, an amusement arcade, riding a motorcycle, wining and dining before some casual sex with some guy she does not even bother introducing herself to. She does this as she is off to join the Convent of Saint Kuroashi the next day, the motivation for which is slowly revealed throughout the rest of the film. What can be said is that it involves what befell her mother when she was a novice at the convent.

Once in the convent, we are quickly shown that this is not a place of quiet contemplation and religious inquiry. Rather, this is a place of penance and punishment, as stated by the Vice Abbess. She informs our heroine of the 76 Chapters of punishment that exist there and are strictly enforced, thus opening the way for numerous punishments to be shown in lurid detail. We have self-flagellation; a whipping duel between two topless nuns; the notorious 13th punishment;  a nun is forced to drink water while being told that if she is truly a bride of Christ she would not urinate on a crucifix that is placed between her legs - each watched with salacious delight by the senior nuns. We are also introduced to a Rasputin-styled monk who derives his philosophies more from the Marquis de Sade than the Bible (or is that really one and the same?), numerous sexual encounters and one of the most original demonstrations of cunnilingus ever used to get around Eirin (the Japanese censorship board) requirements.

While the story is populated with the usual types that are found in such films there are two main ingredients that propel this above the ordinary. The first is the manner in which it is filmed. The use of colour is amazing, the combination of black, white and red is particularly striking and effective. The manner in which the director shoots women - the use of soft-focus, the slow panning along their bodies, the close-ups of their faces - makes me realise that Suzuki is a lover of the female form. Subtle touches, like the camera focusing on a trickle of blood as it winds its way along a rose stem during the 13th punishment combined with the use of slow motion during this same scene - flower petals flying around our heroine's head while being beaten with rose stems-is perversely beautiful.

The other reason is the actors themselves. Looking through the cast list is like reading a who's who of Seventies Japanese exploitation actors. With the exception of Yumi Takigawa, most of the actors in School of the Holy Beast are skilled with years of experience working in this field and it shows. It is even more remarkable that this is Yumi's first film. She brings a determination, defiance and anger to this role that makes it hard to believe that she had little or no prior acting experience. Plus she is simply stunningly attractive, and this is her one and only nude film, going on to become one of Japan's leading actresses of the late Seventies and early Eighties.
Considering the age of this film, the transfer is immaculate. Colour is stunning and I did not notice any glitches. Aspect ratio is 2.35:1 widescreen with 16x9 enhancement.
The sound is in Stereo and is crystal clear. School of the Holy Beast possesses one of the most haunting organ scores ever composed. The music is complimented by chorus swells that accentuate nicely what is happening on screen.
Extra Features
For a film of this age you would not expect a great deal but what is on offer is illuminating. There is the original theatrical trailer with all of its hyperbole.

Then we have an interview with Yumi Takigawa (17 minutes approx.). I've read in other interviews that she has distanced herself somewhat from this film, and here she says that she recognises that it was a stepping-stone for her career to reach the heights it did but still cannot understand why it would warrant a dvd release.

The other interview is with Japanese film critic Risaku Kiridoushi (20 minutes approx.) who provides a context for where this film came from for those who are unfamiliar with Japanese movie history.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
You want naked women? Check. You want lesbian scenes? Check. You want depraved sadism? Got you covered. You want an engaging storyline with a twist ending? Here it is. You want an intelligent exploitation movie that is intoxicating to watch? All go on that front too. This is a gorgeous movie, with more than enough blood, nudity, blasphemy and depravity to satisfy those with large appetites for such temptations. There is a lot on offer here and I can recommend this to anyone who loves the exploitation genre. Essential viewing.

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