A look at Tsurisaki Kiyotaka's infamous Shockumentary, Orozco the Embalmer.
The Film- Tsurisaki Kiyotaka is a famous Japan "Corpse Photographer". Back when the internet was just a fledgling thing, Kiyotaka was out taking pictures of death for special interest magazines. For years, Kiyotaka has ventured to the most violent and dangerous reaches of the earth, only to photograph the bodies of the dead.
His photography, while disturbing, is highly artistic, and in many ways beautiful. He has since published several books of his morbid photos, and his short films have been released on DVD in a collection called Junk Films.
Kiyotaka traveled to the El Cartucho district of Bogota, Columbia (more specifically, the Rue Morgue) on assignment one day, and fell in love with the city of love and violence. Murders were common occurrences, and a dead body was not even shocking anymore. The area was almost entirally desensitized to death.
It is here that Kiyotaka eventually met the man who tends to these cadavers, Froilan Orozco. A veteran of his trade, Orozco has embalmed over 50,000 people in his lifetime. Now before we get too involved, let's clear some things up. An embalming in Columbia is nothing like an embalming in America. Orozco simply cuts the body open with a butchers knife, cleans it out, hoses it down, stuffs it with anything from newspaper to old blankets, and then sews it back up with baling twine.
Kiyotaka follows Orozco as he embalms the rich, poor, infants and the elderly. Over the course of three years, Kiyotaka documented the service of Orozco, and really captured the essence of love and death. Orozco is a hardened man, but it would only make sense that someone must be cold to do the kind of work he does for years on end.
The film follows Orozco as he goes about his work, which as bland as that sounds, is almost enthralling. It doesn't matter if it's a bloated corpse pulled from a body of water or an elderly man who died in his sleep, everything Orozco does is utterly fascinating.
There's a few side tangents here and there. Kiyotaka also takes a look at a rival embalmer who's practice looks brutal and cruel (yeah that's an idiom, but I can't think of any other way to describe it). The movie ends on Kiyotaka's final visit to Rue Morgue, where he learns that Orozco has died during his absence.
While Orozco the Embalmer is a VERY graphic movie, Kiyotaka's filming style is not exploitative at all. He is very respectful of the dead, and the man who prepares them for their final rest. It's amazing how surreal the setting, and the process itself, seem when you view them on a T.V. You almost loose the impact of what you are seeing, and it makes it seem unreal.
What I didn't expect with this film was the emotion. Disgust is not something you will feel, rather a depressed, hopeless feeling. There is a scene where a dead woman is found beside a playground, and the kids just stare blankly. In this part of the world, children are not even afraid of bloody, mangled corpses. That's almost unthinkable.
There's not much I can say about the film, because it's an experience. It's not like "fun" death films like Death Files or Death in Focus (I've even made drinking games out of those films), but rather a somber look at atrocity. I know this review is decently lacking, but it's hard to talk about a film like this. You find yourself droning on and on about the same things, beccause there's only so much you can talk about.
Bottom line, this is an experience. Watch it for the gross out factor or the one of a kind feeling the film emits- it doesn't matter. You will come out with a different attitude than you did when you had when you put the DVD in, and that's what makes Orozco the Embalmer so powerful.
Fans of Mondo Films and Shockumentaries, you owe it to yourselves to graduate from the confines of sensational death films and check this film out. It's an experience that not many people will enjoy, but I'm willing to go as far as to say you will be glad you endured. Orozco the Embalmer is an amazing film, and is as disturbing as it is beautiful.
The Package- Kiyotaka's gorilla film making gives Orozco the Embalmer an odd, surreal vibe that feels like you're really there. It's pretty much Gonzo journalism on film. Of course some shots look a little rough, and there's some blurring here and there, but considering the setting and equipment, this is a really beautiful transfer.
Sadly, this particular DVD has no English subtitles. The first release came with English subtitles, but the currently in print edition only has Japanese. The audio is what you would expect- oddly unnatural sounds that range from squishing to ripping. If you actually care about the film, you need to find a copy with subtitles. This is one of the most respectful shockumentaries ever filmed, and it's a disadvantage not to be able to experience it in its entirety.
While there are no on disk extras, the physical extras are through the roof. This edition of Orozco the Embalmer is a limited edition of 1000 and comes in a cardboard box that contains- a surgical face mask with Orozco emblem, a t-shirt, a full sized poster, and a deck of playing cards featuring the photographs of Tsurisaki Kiyotaka (I believe all of these are from his book Revelations). This has to be one of the coolest boxsets I can think of, and the cards really tip the scale. They show how Kiyotaka can turn death into something immortal.
Check out the director's website for information on his films and photography.