The introductory segment, Marss Canal, leaves you end up wondering what on Earth you have sat down to watch. It feels like watching a pretentious experimental student film. The first four minutes of the segments six-minute running time are entirely silent. We have a naked man near a circular pool in the centre of a bare open green plain beneath a murky grey sky. This is juxtaposed with fragmentary flashbacks to what look like scenes of the man brutalising a woman, although these flashes are so brief it is hard to tell what is happening. The man looks at his reflection in the pool but in some shots he appears to be a woman. The sound does eventually kick in but this consists of a piercing squeal interspersed with a rushing sound. The episode then ends. One is left scratching their head in puzzlement. The dvd cover for Rampo Noir claims that this episode contains elements and motifs from all the subsequent episodes maybe. The only common factor in all four stories is actor Tadanobu Asano who plays detective Kogoro Akechi in two of the stories and the lead character in the other two, including the naked man in Marss Canal.
Things improve considerably however with the first episode, Mirror Hell, which comes from director Akio Jissoji, best known for the anime Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis (1988). Throughout the episode runs the theme of mirrors and Jissoji decks each location the teahouse, Toros workshop, the hotel, even the autopsy room and the police station with mirrors covering every conceivable surface. The episode even opens and closes with the image of a dozen mirrors lined up along an otherwise bare beach. At one point, Kogoro Akechis detective goes to visit his crippled wife who lives in a wheelchair in a cell that is half flooded with water where the cell bars come at odd angles and we cannot be sure what part of the room is a mirror reflection or not.
Akio Jissoji plays the episode with a constant weirdness. There is much interestingly enigmatic talk about gods that exist inside mirrors and an odd scene, which almost doesnt seem to have a place, where a Buddha statue in a rock pool starts glowing and people hear railway line signals. There is a perverse scene where Asuza admits her longing for Hiroki Narimiya and he takes her tongue in his fingers and starts biting and kissing on it and in the next scene we see him in a mirrored hotel room with her tied up as he pours candle wax all over her body and tongue. Mostly, the episode works more than effectively as a horror story.
The second episode, Caterpillar, hits in with a perverse kick. It comes from Hisayasu Sato, a director known for some outre pinko (Japanese porn films). Caterpillar is Boxing Helena (1993) with a sex reversal, while the ending it arrives at has been borrowed somewhat from Freaks (1932). Hisayasu Sato fills the episode with incredibly perverse images of Yukiko Okamoto tending Nao Omoris limbless and drooling torso, she shaving him and caressing the razor across his nipples, cutting him and licking up the blood and then whipping him with a riding crop. A few minutes later she strips, climbs atop and rides the husband before he starts licking his way up her legs, breasts and then climbing on top of her, before she turns him over and jabs her thumbs into his eyes. The episode comes to a horrible ending [PLOT SPOILERS] where the wife reveals that she cut the husbands arms and legs off to prevent him from returning to the war and the artist (Ryuhei Matsuda) persuades her to join him by cutting her own legs off. The entire segment appears to have been filmed in abandoned building. The same Rampo story was also later adapted into a feature-length film Caterpillar (2010).
The third episode, Crawling Bugs, is the gem among the three. It is an episode that inhabits a genuinely whacked-out headspace. For one, it is a not always linear tale and moreover appears to change points-of-view halfway through. The first half, which would seem to tell the story from singer Tamaki Ogawas viewpoint is eccentric she has a giant horizontally bouffed-out afro and the score is played seemingly using xylophones and bongo drums. There are random weird images like Tamaki Ogawa seen placing a leech on her neck and it sucking her blood out while she sighs in ecstasy. Playing the chauffeur this time, Kogoro Akechi gives an intensely neurotic and withdrawn performance where he spends most of the episode perpetually scratching his skin.
The most perverse part of the film is the necrophile element when Kogoro Akechi takes Tamaki Ogawas body and places her in a kitsch shrine in his apartment where he starts cutting into the body and then attempting to inject her with formaldehyde, or keeps trying to perfect her makeup but failing, and then eventually lies down with her as her blood spills out in a pool across the floor. The episode reaches a dazzlingly grim ending where the police break into the apartment and we suddenly see that there is no shrine and that they are in fact pulling Kogoro Akechi out from where he has his head buried in a hole burrowed in the stomach of a rotted corpse.