Why do I do this to myself? A few months ago, I volunteered to take part in the White Elephant Blogathon, a film blog event based on the “white elephant” gift exchange idea. For those unfamiliar with the concept–each blogger chooses a movie (often a really horrible one) and then is secretly assigned someone else’s pick to watch and review.
I signed on for this despite the fact that I haven’t written about movies for years and feel even more uncomfortable writing film reviews than beer reviews. Not sure what I was thinking, but I guess it’s not surprising. I make bad decisions.
My plan was to watch the film on Sunday afternoon, write about it that night and polish it up on Monday to meet today’s deadline. Genius that I am, I went out on Sunday afternoon for a couple beers and had way more than a couple. So here I am on Monday, tired and hungover, having to watch and review a mindfuck of a Japanese movie called Strange Circus.
I knew I was in trouble when the first thing that appears is a quote from Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against the Grain. My lady is a fan of decadent literature and Against the Grain is her favorite book. I’ve never read it, but from what I know of it and Huysmans’s writing in general, the use of the quote reaffirmed my belief that this was gonna be a challenging watch. Maybe I should’ve had her watch the movie and review it.
One thing I will say about Strange Circus–if you put aside all the surreal imagery and ping-ponging back and forth between what’s real and what’s imagined, there’s a story isn’t that hard to follow. In the first part of the film we’re introduced to a twelve-year old girl whose home life goes beyond dysfunctional. She’s locked inside a cello case and forced to watch her parents have sex, is raped by her father and then beaten by her mother because Mom’s jealous after learning that father and daughter are screwing. This shit is pretty disturbing to watch.
Luckily, the film shifts gears and we’re introduced to a wheelchair-bound writer who’s penning the tale we’ve just seen. From this point on, the movie becomes a sort of mystery where the viewer is left to figure out the true identity of the writer and distinguish between reality and fantasy in the story of the young girl and her parents. Along the way, there’s a lot of bizarre stuff going on (like the recurring strange circus of the title, frequent nosebleeds, a spaghetti freakout) and I’m sure a lot of it is symbolic or metaphoric or something. Maybe I’m just too intellectually lazy to figure it out, but it seemed like sometimes it may’ve just been weird for weird’s sake.
In the end, Strange Circus kept me interested even though I’m sure I didn’t “get” everything that the director was throwing at me. It may be one of those films that’s more rewarding with repeated viewings, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. Evidently, it’s part of a modern resurgence of the ero-guro (erotic grotesque) movement in Japanese film. Ero-guro traces back to a literary and artistic movement in Japan in the 20s and 30s that mixes themes of sexuality and horror. I’m not sure if this genre is really my thing, but it is a welcome change from Asian horror’s overreliance on the young girl ghost theme.