Posted: 03/17/2007


Strange Circus


by Janet Lee

The Understatement of the Year

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This movie finds its place in the western world because of its perverse, intellectual threads. Already a winner of “Best Feature Film” by the Fantasia Film Festival and “Official Selection” at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Sion Sono’s direction appeals to our basest natures by giving sexual perversion a whole new mystery. Attempting to understand Strange Circus completely isn’t recommended. Like a dream trying to be recalled, its essence will begin to sift away. Sion Sono must have had quite a nightmare.

I should make clear if I haven’t already that this movie isn’t for the young or old. Strange Circus is first and foremost disturbing.

That said, watch it.

The circus begins the movie, the proper stage of strangeness for everything that will follow. It seems to be a Las Vegas show that caters to the suicidal. A guillotine comes out and Mitsuko (at this point played by Rie Kuwana) volunteers for decapitation.

Her story picks up from there as a young teenager attending a school of which her father, Gozo (Hiroshi Ohguchi), is principal, a regular sex maniac, that begins molesting her at age twelve. As a unique sort of torture, he drills a hole in a cello case, places Mitsuko inside, and sets the case at the foot of the bed while he has pornographic sex with her mother Sayuri (Masumi Miyazaki). After Sayuri finds out Mitsuko is having sex with Yuji, she tries to kill her. A struggle at the top of the stairs kills Suyuri. Or, at least, that is what was written. The esteemed authoress Taeko, whom is none other than Suyuri about ten years later, writes the rest of Mitsuki’s unfortunate tale as if she had lived and was to blame.

Suyuri’s evolving insanity from that moment on the stairs involves several botched suicide attempts, and finally, the crippling of Yuji, who she keeps locked in the infamous cello case after he turns into a vegetable.

To review her novel, a meeting of the regular firm visits her and watches as she writes feverishly. A new member of the firm, Yuji (Issei Ishida) is singled out by Taeko/Suyui to read her manuscript.

Surprise! Yuji is actually grown, transvestite Mitsuko, intent on revenge. A series of confusion and dreams finds Suyuri on her marriage bed next to her mutilated husband while Mitsuko melodramatically wields a rumbling chainsaw above her neck.

The circus takes over, and Suyuri has replaced Mitsuko at the execution stand, smiling as the guillotine rushes down.

There are moments of melodrama and excessive flashbacks. Strange Circus makes up for it with its cleaver weaving and symbolism. Sion Sono has a delightfully blasphemous way of working with blood by using it to portray emotional suffering rather than physical suffering (though it was more than present in both instances). Camera placement was superb and filtered in comfortable, peaceful colors save for the dream sequences. Masumi Miyazaki, more than anything else, was risky, demented and elegant in one foul swoop for Japanese drama.

Strange Circus deserves recognition if only because you sit shocked and transfixed for 83 minutes. The mystery will give the most controversial indie artist an adrenaline rush and perhaps a touch of jealousy.

Oh, and don’t eat popcorn during the show. Your stomach may not be able to keep it down.

Janet Lee is a film reviewer living in New York City. Check out her site here.

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