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Strange Circus

Grand Guignol, Japanese style, takes center stage in "Strange Circus," an out-there yarn that shocks, provokes but ultimately bores with its tasteless indulgences. Indie helmer Sion Sono goes for the jugular. Film will be most at home at midnight fest sidebars, or anywhere else where a trash aesthetic is embraced.

With: Masumi Miyazaki, Issei Ishida, Rie Kuwana, Hiroshi Oguchi, Tomorowo Taguchi.

Grand Guignol, Japanese style, takes center stage in “Strange Circus,” an out-there yarn that shocks, provokes but ultimately bores with its tasteless indulgences. Indie helmer Sion Sono, who raised eyebrows and some interesting ideas with his 2002 cult fave, “Suicide Club,” this time goes for the jugular. Film will be most at home at midnight fest sidebars, or anywhere else where a trash aesthetic is embraced.

After a “Cabaret”-like framing device that provides the film’s title, pic starts out as the story of 12-year-old Mitsuko (Rie Kuwana), who’s being sexually abused by her father, Gozo (Hiroshi Oguchi), and terrorized by her jealous mother, Sayuri (Masumi Miyazaki). Mitsuko is imprisoned in a cello case and forced to watch her parents’ intimate liaisons through a peephole.

The strange abuse causes Mitsuko to blur the distinction between her mother’s pleasure and her own pain. When her mom dies after falling down the stairs, Mitsuko starts believing she is her mother. Worse, dad sees his wife’s death as a green light to shamelessly ramp up his incestuous relations with his daughter.

After Mitsuko attempts to commit suicide by jumping off a roof, she ends up restricted to a wheelchair. Cut to a house with Hieronymus Bosch-like decor where wheelchair-confined writer Taeko (also Miyazaki) is holding a meeting with her editor (Tomorowo Taguchi) and some youthful associates. All that has gone before is revealed to be from a new novel by the reclusive Taeko.

The editor is handing his most successful client over to the care of a foppish personal assistant, Yuji (Issei Ishida). Ostensibly a fan of Taeko’s work, Yuji finds his duties will include sexual favors. Unbeknownst to Taeko, Yuji is also researching a magazine expose about the writer’s mysterious life. He unsuccessfully probes Taeko to try to find out whether her writings are based on real events.

weirdness involving both characters accelerates until, finally, the true source of both protags’ motivations is revealed. Unfortunately, by then the story has descended into chaos.

Thesping is rarely less than hammy. While Miyazaki is adequate as the mother and novelist, Ishida is grating as the personal assistant. Oguchi is suitably repugnant as the father.

Pic is helmer Sono’s third film this year. Like his compatriot, Takashi Miike, increased input appears to have impacted quality: Film lacks the steady hand necessary to keep performances on track. Soundtrack’s frequent use of Liszt is intended as counterpoint, but soon becomes annoying. Tech credits are passable.

Strange Circus


Production: A Sedic Intl., Chuo Eigaboeki production, in association with Excellent Film, For Peace. (International sales: Sedic, Tokyo.) Produced by Toshiaki Nakazawa. Directed, written by Sion Sono.

Crew: Camera (color), Yuichiro Otsuka; editor, Junichi Itou; music, Sono; art director, Yuto Oba; sound (Dolby), Shin Fukuda. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (A Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 9, 2005. (In Berlin Film Fest -- Forum.) Running time: 108 MIN.

With: With: Masumi Miyazaki, Issei Ishida, Rie Kuwana, Hiroshi Oguchi, Tomorowo Taguchi.

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