It's the 1930's when Lt. Kyuzo Kurokawa comes home from the war. He has lost both arms and legs, and comes home to a wife who starts screaming upon seeing him. It takes a while for her to calm down, but when she does she begins to take care of him, giving him everything he needs. Food and sex.
It was with sincere curiousity that I watched this movie. Kôji Wakamatsu is a great director but I haven't seen his latest work (prior to this I hadn't seen anything after 1978). I was very interested in seeing his work from 2010, and see how much it would differ. Could he possibly have kept his highly artistic yet sleazy style for so many years, and would it be a mere shell of what it used to be? Or would it be even better now? The first couple of minutes assured me that even though it's 2010's, and technology has improved beyond imagination since then, Kôji Wakamatsu is still a visionary director with a distinct style. The intro for this film could be taken from any of his films (minus the fire that was added on top of the picture). I felt safe and stopped worrying.
I quickly fell into the emotional story of Lt. Kyuzo Kurokawa's return from the China front in the 1930's. He has to live the rest of his life limbless, and all he can do is eat, sleep and have sex. His wife goes from screaming hysterically that he's not her husband, to nurturing him as good as she possibly could. The town is amazed at how well she takes care of him and keep reminding her that it's a solder's wife duty. This eventually gets to her head and she gets a need to nurture him. It's an interesting way of showing how people act about war and its soldiers, without letting the political aspect of it take over the emotional story that it is telling.
It's a very sad story but in typical Wakamatsu-manner it's always on the border of being sleaze. It's not a mistake on his part - he knows exactly what he is doing. He knows how to tell a serious story and how to fill it with as much sex as possible, without it ever becoming simple erotica. There's always a valid reason for the smut in his films, or at least he knows how to make us believe there is. I've never seen a director who knows how to "degrade" his own films by adding so much sleaze and sex (be it rape or whatever it could be, all in typical Pinku fashion) without it ever making the story less important, as Kôji Wakamatsu does. He is beyond being a simple Pinku film director ("Caterpillar" isn't really close to the genre though) with his aesthetics, story-telling and experimental filmmaking. "Caterpillar" is one of the most emotionally challenging films of his I have seen so far (I feel lucky in knowing I have lots left to watch as well!).
Shinobu Terajima is excellent as the wife who has to give her husband what he needs (wants), and who eventually switches side completely. She's quiet, calm and very likable, but at the same time if she does something out of the ordinary for her character it's so noticable. In any other movie she would definitely be the highlight of the cast, but when she acts alongside of someone who only has his face to act with (without speaking) and does it so perfectly, well... It's obvious who the real star is. Shima Ônishi takes the cake! His character is slightly over-the-top at times to make a point of his disability, but he delivers everything with only facial expressions (while half of the face is burnt).
Kôji Wakamatsu proved that he is still as great now as he was in the 60's and 70's, and now I will definitely check out more of his 80's-10's work. "Caterpillar" is exactly what you hope for from a Wakamatsu film - it tells an intriguing story by simple means, does it with beauty and experiments, and has plenty of sex that isn't just there to get people to watch his films. It's amazing with a director like him because it doesn't matter where you start with his filmography (I can't speak for the entire filmography, of course) because you're very likely to get a film of equal high quality either way.