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STUDIO: TLA Releasing
RUNNING TIME: 108 Minutes
• Strange Days: “making of” featurette
• English Subtitles
The Japanese take a break from horror movies about evil videotapes to bring some truly surreal creepiness to our shores!
Masumi Miyazaki, Issei Ishida, Hiroshi Ohguchi, Rie Kuwana
Little Mitsuko (Ishida) has some problems. Her grades in school aren’t very good and the principal, Gozo (Ohguchi), who just happens to be her father, wants her to do better. Dad also happens to be an extremely perverted man who stuffs his daughter into a cello case every so often and makes her watch mom and dad have sex through a peephole in the case. If that isn’t scary enough, Mitsuko’s dad is also having sex with her as well while the mom watches. It’s a disgusting life for young Mitsuko, but is any of it real? After some time it is revealed that all of these disgusting things that happen to Mitsuko are just words on a page, part of a novel being written by famous Japanese Author Taeko (Miyazaki).
Taeko is a recluse who relies on her assistant, the androgynous, shy Yuji (Kuwana), to help her when she occasionally feels the need to get around town. Yuji seems in awe of his boss, but does accept an assignment from her publishing company to try and figure out what the real story behind Taeko is.
Sion Sono’s Strange Circus certainly lives up to its title. It is a perversely beautiful film, packed to the gills with disturbing images and ideas over its 108 minutes. None of the topics are handled subtly either; they are thrown in your face, daring you at every turn to just hit eject on the DVD player and move on to some safer fare. But, if you stay with it and follow it to the bloody end, you will be rewarded with a film that, while terribly unpleasant much of the time, is a great study in how adept filmmakers can raise shock and schlock to art.
When I say the movie isn’t subtle in its subject matter I truly mean it, but it is subtle in how it weaves its various plot points together. While you are being grossed out, Sono is drawing you in, never really letting on whether what you are seeing is actually happening to the characters or not. It’s very clever in its subterfuge, letting the viewer think one way about how the characters are relating to the world around them, and then pulling the rug out from under them and changing the whole direction of the movie.
Big Brother decided 1985 would lose the drab and bring some flare back to Oceania.
The kind of hairpin turns that this film takes would not have been possible without some strong acting, and the talent in this movie seems eager to get into the depravity with gusto. Being that most of the story is being told as a depraved fantasy, many of the actors take on multiple parts. Masumi Miyazaki is a standout as the famous author with terrible secrets. She goes from adorable to insane in a beat. Rie Kuwana also does a fine job as the meek Yuji. He plays most of his scenes quietly, but like I said earlier, if you sit through the whole thing, Yuji gets his moment to shine. Hiroshi Oguchi should also be given some kind of credit for playing the ugliest, nastiest, filthiest father that I have ever seen on screen. He’s like a fucking machine that is never too concerned what his unit it being stuffed into. From what I have read Oguchi is a former rock star, so he may know that end of it pretty well, but all kidding aside, he is a truly convincing monster in Strange Circus.
Ultimately though, the credit for making this film work to such great affect belongs to Sono. His previous film, Suicide Club, dealt with the topic of young people in Japan committing mass suicide without so much as a thought to what the impact of their actions may cause on themselves or others around them. That is a dark film to say the least, and this one is no different. It may not be an enjoyable experience to sit through, but it is rich in imagery, and extremely well put together. Watch it at your own risk, but if you sometimes enjoy a ride on the truly dark side of cinema you will appreciate it. It’s a movie that, for better or worse, seems to stick in you head for a while.
Included on the DVD is a nicely made featurette titled "Strange Days: The Making of Strange Circus." It isn’t much more than a bunch of raw footage and interviews cut down to just over an hour, but it is very interesting to see how the director and actors sift through the subject matter of the film and get themselves geared up to be a part of it.
Yup, there’s even room for some wheelchair sex in Strange Circus! 7.8 out of 10