Kimyo na Sasaku (Strange Circus) (Shion Sono, 2005)
I know some folks who think Shion Sono is a demigod incarnate, and who think he’s one of the best filmmakers walking the planet today. I have never been one of them; he’s made some very good movies over the years, but he’s always been kind of hit-or-miss with me. I sat down with Sono’s 2005 effort Strange Circus last night, and this one definitely falls on the miss side of the mark—in fact, I think it is my least favorite of the Sono pictures I have seen so far.
Plot: Taeko (A Watcher in the Attic‘s Masumi Miyazaki in, to date, her final screen appearance) is a novelist who has been struggling with her most recent creation, a story about a young girl named Mitsuko (The Great Yokai War‘s Mai Takahashi) whose family life is almost unspeakably traumatic. (I say “almost” because, obviously, Taeko is writing it.) She suffers terrifying abuse at the hands of both parents, sexual from her father and physical and emotional from her mother. The first half hour of this film is a depiction of the events in the novel (without telling you that these events are from a novel), and it’s pretty ugly stuff to watch. We then meet Yûji (Samurai Zombie‘s Issei Ishida), Taeko’s personal assistant, who is intrigued with the story and is trying discreetly to find out how much of it, if any, is based on Taeko’s own life.
The main problem with the film is its climax. The movie has spent a good deal of time trying to get you to buy into the universe Sono, who also wrote, is pitching here. And as distasteful as the movie is, he almost (though not quite) succeeds in creating a coherent, internally consistent universe. And then, well, there’s the climax, and all the bombs he drops that require you to stretch disbelief about a dozen times farther than you’ve already stretched it to buy what he’s been selling you up until now. I have seen at least one article, in Sound on Sight, saying that people are criticizing movies for having twists (and specifically going off briefly on M. Night Shyamalan). The problem is not that there is a twist. The problem is that the twist stretches the bounds of credulity in a movie that will already be difficult for users to stomach. Why add on unbelievability? **