[Note: Japanese cult director Shion Sono's given name is frequently spelled "Sion." However, it's pronounced "Shion" -- "si" is nowhere in the Japanese syllabary. So I'm going with Shion.]
Shion Sono's films are a mixed bag to be sure. At the brilliant end of the spectrum there's Suicide Club (see my full-length review in Asia Shock), Love Exposure and Cold Fish. Down at the crap end you'll find Noriko's Dinner Table and now, not quite so far down but definitely in the vicinity, Strange Circus (2005).
On paper, Strange Circus has it all: Near-hardcore sex, insanity, gender-bending, extreme body modification, incest, dismemberment, psychedelic fantasy sequences featuring fat transvestites, and the odd beheading. Add to that Rampo-esque touches like someone hiding in a cello case observing others having sex. Yes, it could have been so much more, but the pace, oh the slogging pace -- just kills it. To his credit, Sono seems to sense just when he's about to lose his audience completely, doling out plot points right at the last moment to keep them from bailing. I came close several times, to be sure.
So what's it about? OK, you've got a love triangle between a father, a mother and a daughter. In true Electra-complex fashion, the girl fucks her dad and kills her mom. Later the daughter grows up to be a mad novelist -- is all the transgression of her past just her literary fancy? Does she even know? A young editorial assistant from her publishing house wants to find out, and his investigations into her sordid private life reveal things that … well, I don't want to blow it for you should you decide to stick it out on your own.
Strange Circus offers more than enough bizarre imagery and memorable moments to haunt you for years, especially if you're a newcomer to extreme Japanese cinema. Just wish Sono could have made it flow better ...
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