Suicide Club’s maverick cult director Sion Sono returns with a disturbing, visually electrifying shocker about a sexually abused young woman and her hallucinatory reality. This surreal shockfest just gets more disturbing as it progresses… even before the amputations, bondage imprisonment, and secret transsexuality! Teenage Mitsuko is to watch her parents’ lovemaking through the peephole of a cello case. Soon she is involved in her father’s wicked sex acts, the death of her mother and suicide attempts… yet all of this is apparently a novel being penned by reclusive, wheelchair-bound author Taeko. Or is it? Strange Circus is an often wicked, always bizarre, cinematic ride for the adventurous!
Kimyô na sâkasu 7.75
eyelights: its artistic flourishes. its mind-bending structure. its cast.
eyesores: its convoluted plot. its gratuitous shock value.
I approached ‘Kimyô na sâkasu’ with some trepidation. I remember reading the back of the box and being shocked by its description of bondage, transsexuality, incest and surrealistic nightmares. It felt heavy, maybe even offensive, but its cover art drew me in – it was not only beautiful, but it gave the picture a mysterious quality that I found appealing.
It’s a difficult picture to describe. At its core is the story of the systemic psychological, physical and sexual abuse of a mother and daughter at the hands of the father/husband. Except that we’re not entirely clear whether or not it is an autobiographical recollection or if it’s merely the brainchild of the film’s demented protagonist, renowned author Taeko.
It’s all served with a Lynch-ian aesthetic, blending flashbacks, vivid nightmares and the present fluidly, leaving us unsure exactly what is reality. I especially enjoyed the nightmares, which take place in a cabaret, like a demented Grand Gignol spectacle crossed with Cirque du Soleil; it’s artsy, theatrical, and it adds an abstract quality that I’m fond of.
The whole film, however, is created to stimulate the senses, from the unusual camera work to the inserts of ferris wheels, blood, …etc., to POV shot from inside a cello case – it’s nothing if not creative. I know nothing about its writer-director Sian Sono, who gained notoriety with ‘Jisatsu sâkuru’ in 2001, but I am curious to see what else he’s been up to.
Still, ‘Kimyô na sâkasu’ remains a highly-disturbing motion picture: although it suggests that not all that we see is reality, it doesn’t change the fact that we see scenes of abuse that are absolutely not okay in any context. No amount of distancing can change that. It’s a grotesque setting and it totally justifies the many nightmares that come along with it.
I suppose the reason to watch this movie is that there are so many layers of mystery worth unraveling underneath the horror. And when we are faced with the present and all its questions, an obsessive character is foisted upon us as a surrogate for the audience, trying to reveal Taeko’s many secrets. But even that character has something to hide…
Personally, I couldn’t help but empathize with the lead, who is forced by her father to take her mother’s place; the trauma surrounding this is unreal. To cope with the abuse from both her vile father and her jealous mother, she had to switch places with her mother and literally take on the role in her mind and pretend that her mother was in fact her.
It’s messed up. But it’s her way of surviving.
But she lived in constant fear, convinced that her house -her whole life really- was rigged with traps everywhere, and that she never knew when she would fall into one. Inevitably, no matter how hard she tries to cope, she succumbs to the emotional torture and attempts suicide. It’s the only way that she feels she can escape the nightmare of her life.
But she doesn’t escape it. She becomes even more trapped by it.
‘Kimyô na sâkasu’ is a challenging picture that I’m not sure is defensible. I’d like to think that its artistic qualities and its unflinching portrayal of the trauma that child abuse survivors endure make it a valid picture, but I also worry that it might have crossed the line into exploitation. I was drawn in by the storytelling, but was it at all justified?
At the very least, one could argue that it fuels the debate of what can be considered art. Perhaps, from that perspective alone, it’s worth seeing, and discussing. Or maybe it’s perfectly fine as it stands. Perhaps there are nontraditional ways of interpreting child abuse without being offensive and/or insensitive to the victims of such unspeakable horrors.
I think I’ll leave that to wiser minds to sort out.
Date of viewing: May 1, 2016