Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Strange Circus

Directed by Shion Sono.
2005. Rated R, 108 minutes.
Masumi Miyazaki
Rie Kuwana
Mai Takahashi
Hiroshi Ohguchi
Issei Ishida
Tomorrowo Taguchi

Strange movies have a certain way with me. They’re a reminder that film can be akin to abstract art, creative and open to interpretation. Movies that explore the grotesque are also highly intriguing to me. They tap in to our subconscious fear and sadism. Though we may cringe, we can’t stop watching. Strange Circus is a strange movie that explores the grotesque.

We start the proceedings following Mitsuko (played by three different actresses, but somehow not at all confusing). When we meet her, she’s a twelve year old girl who leads a rather tortured existence. Her father is the well-liked principal of her school. However, that’s by far the least uncomfortable part of their relationship. At home, he has a cello case in his bedroom. He likes hiding her in it, forcing her to watch through the peephole he's cut out as he and his wife make love. When that’s not enough, he graduates to having sex with his daughter. Then…well, let’s just say it gets even more bizarre.

The question becomes is Mitsuko’s story real? After a while, we meet Taeko (Miyazaki), a famous wheelchair bound author and discover that we’ve been watching her upcoming novel unfold as she writes it. Or, are we? Is this piece of so-called fiction actually an autobiography? Where we go from here, took a twisted mind to conjure. By the way, director Shion Sono also wrote the movie and did an awesome job at both.

After we’re introduced to Taeko, we switch back and forth between her current, somewhat odd and mysterious life and Mitsuko’s developing tale. The two weave an unsettling tapestry of sexually charged but almost never sexy imagery. The act is completely perverted, stripped of intimacy and wielded as a soul stealing weapon. This is true horror. It eschews masked and/or deformed boogeymen for a real, at least seemingly so, flesh and blood monster. This monster doesn’t rack up a body count to shock us intermittently while using the stupidity of other characters as comic relief. This monster, well all of them as several are eventually revealed, just screws with our heads, relentlessly. Any laughs to be had are uneasy, at best.

In the lead role, Masumi Miyazaki is stunning. She actually winds up playing three roles. It only feels like one, until it suddenly doesn’t. You have to see it, to have even an inkling of what I’m talking about. In fact, the cast as a whole is remarkable. Perhaps, not to be outdone by any of them, cinematographer Yûichirô Ôtsaka turns in outstanding work. It can’t be easy making images so innately disgusting to us so beautiful to look at. This isn’t the gory, slasher flick type of disgusting we’ve become desensitized to. These are things that shake our core and bother us to even think.

If you want to see something very, very different, this is what you’re looking for. It’s often repulsive, but that’s part of its appeal. It never pulls punches. Whether, or not, you duck is up to you.

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