The short story it is based on was written by Edogawa Rampo, probably Japan's most respected mystery and horror writer.
Rampo penned Caterpillar in 1939 when WWII was raging. The Japanese government banned the story, fearing that it would impact negatively on the country's war effort.
The story is about a solider who returns from the war without limbs. His wife is forced to care for him, and he wriggles about like a human caterpillar. He resembles the 'human torso'in Todd Browning's seminal Freaks ('32).
It's impossible to know whether Rampo saw Freaks before writing Caterpillar; the writer was certainly heavily influenced by American culture (he changed his name from Hirai Taro to honor Edgar Allen Poe), and much of his work has a Poe and Lovecraft influence. Elements of Freaks, based on the short story by Todd Robbins, Spurs, are present in much of Rampo's work; still, his tales are still very particular to the Japanese sensibility and often explore extreme fetishism (not an arena touched on as frequently in Western genre literature).
In Japanese culture, the depiction of deformities on-screen is, to this day, controversial. Teruo Ishii's Horrors of Malformed Men ('69), based on a Rampo story, was banned from being screened in Japan for years due to its focus on less-than-perfect, unfortunate human beings.
This is Wakamatsu's first true horror film, although his approach appears to be anything but conventional.
Wakamatsu, one of the original 'Godfathers of Pink' is enjoying a renaissance of sorts following the release of his exceptional United Red Army ('07). The French have recently released a stunning box set of his work, and I'm praying (not literally!) that a company like Criterion will release an English subtitled version of this exceptional set.
Controversy has surrounded Wakamatsu for years due to his 'anarchist' connections and uncompromising filmography.
Only recently I was privileged to watch his 13-nin renzoku bôkôma (The Man Who Attacked 13 People), a raw example of utter cinematic nihilism.
In my imdb review, the first to appear on that site about the film, I wrote:
The Violent Man Who Attacked 13 People (a loose translation) is deserving of infamy for it is one of the most nihilistic pink films ever made. A chubby, bicycle-riding rapist/killer dispatches 13 people (mostly women) in a cold, bloody, detached rampage. In the first 38 minutes, 8 people die. Koji Wakamatsu, one of the Godfathers of Pink, makes no concessions to anybody in this grim exercise. The killer unloads his gun into vaginas, a man's ass, arms, legs, and heads. The film appears to be a catalog of murder and rape. There is no humor and no let-up. Only a minimalist harmonica score is heard in the quieter moments between the attacks. Shot on grainy 16mm, the tone is similar to Yojiro Takita's 1983 film "Renzoku Boko", suggesting that Takita was heavily influenced by this film. The relentlessness of the narrative draws the viewer into a process where he (the viewer) becomes anxious about the next attack. As this is a film from the esteemed director of "Go Go Second Time Virgin" and the excellent "Violated Angels", a poetry emerges from the images that separates it from standard pink fare. Just as the film dryly documents the slaughter of more than a dozen people, so will I right now: 1 housewife is murdered and raped in her apartment, 1 young girl is murdered and raped by the river, a couple are stalked "Maniac"-style while making love in a car, 1 girl in uniform is abducted and abused, another couple are attacked, shot, and raped by the same river, 1 girl is invited to a rooftop where she is raped and shot, a couple are raped and shot in their apartment, 1 drunk girl is shot and raped, 1 girl is killed outside a toilet block, 1 girl is dragged into marshland and murdered and raped. A final girl, the killer's 14th, meets a different fate. It should be noted that the sequence where the killer stalks the lovers in a car has several shots that may have been duplicated by Bill Lustig in "Maniac"; one, in particular, of the killer peering through the window at the couple as they make love, is uncannily similar. Perhaps Lustig saw this film, though I doubt it -- it is quite obscure. This is certainly the first film I know of documenting the exploits of a dysfunctional, bicycle-riding serial rapist/killer and is one of the purest horror films I have seen. Highly, highly recommended. It is a type of cinema that many people fear, yet a small minority admire.
A filmmaker of immense talent and singular, brutal vision, Wakamatsu has directed close to 100 features since 1963.
Only Go Go Second Time Virgin and Ecstasy of the Angels have been widely seen in the US and UK.
The director has made dozens of notable features including Sex Jack, Violated Angels...
Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist, 100 Years of Torture - The History, Sacred Mother Kannon, The Embryo Hunts in Secret (one of the most evocative titles ever conceived)...
... and the magnificent Black Beast of Lust.
Wakamatsu's output is virtually an industry unto itself!
Caterpillar is of particular interest to me because I adore the short story it is based on, and share the author's fondness for freaks, deformities, and marginalized humans.
The story has been filmed already (and beautifully) by another brilliant Japanese director of extreme nihilism, Hisayasu Sato.
Rampo Jigoku (aka Rampo Noir, 05) was an impressive anthology pic based on the works of Rampo; Sato's 'Caterpillar' installment (titled Imomushi here) is the best of the bunch.
My imdb review ran as follows:
This is an anthology film comprising four stories. The third story, Caterpillar, directed by Hisayasu Sato (Lolita Vibrator Torture, Naked Blood) is the most horrific of the bunch. It plays like a big budget Guinea Pig episode and focuses on a man whose limbs have been lopped off by his wife. He wriggles about like a caterpillar, spewing bile and oozing pus, and enjoys a spot of cunnilingus now and then. The lighting is beautiful, the production design is handsome, and Sato has never directed anything so lush. The other three stories are also interesting, although the first story, about a devious mirror maker, is very slow. Final story, about a weird man's obsession with an actress, possesses a surreal quality and is dazzling to look at. The fourth story is so short it's hardly worth commenting on. All stories were inspired by Japan's Edgar Allen Poe, Edogowa Rampo, a splendid author of dark tales who was inspired enough by Poe to take his name. Terrific to see a film of such quality that is not afraid to offend or confront. I was reminded of Hideshi Hino's wonderful work while watching this and highly recommend you chase down Rampo Noir.
On February 15, Caterpillar will unspool for the first time at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Considering Wakamatsu's history, the original author's lasting status, and the high esteem in which I hold Sato's adaptation, perhaps you can understand why I am so primed for this cinematic event.
Wakamatsu truly personifies the filmmaker as anarchist and provocateur.
Without art like his, I'd rather be dead.