Reviewed by: Ryan Doom
What's it about
A sexually abused girl moves through reality and fantasy to escape her abusive father.
Is it good movie?
Iíve come to discover that having expectations from Japanese horror is stupid, as they have evolved so far beyond the American recycle machine. While obviously not all are masterworks, it seems more and more that they strive to create what most (not all) horror should be: intelligent, thoughtful, and horrific. Strange Circus accomplishes this feat; itís beautiful, brutal, and surreal as it involves a laundry list of topics with mental torture, sexual abuse, escapism, identity questions, hallucinations, mutilations, transsexuals, and amputees. Packed with emotion and an ever-evolving storyline, director/writer Sion Sono (Suicide Club)seemingly is David Lynch junior with the shear amount of bizarre and fusion of sex and violence. Like Lynch, he drapes fantasy elements in red, even using curtains, and throws in an omnipresent circus theme to underline the odd. Although Sono isnít near Lynchís ability to dive completely outside the box, he effectively fluctuates between reality and fantasy and swaps identities to the point one doesnít know what the hell is happening. Comparisons of Phillip K. Dick jump out, but Sono keeps things in the family as the story revolves around a seriously fíed up mother, father, and daughter. Regardless if the film makes perfect sense, its power becomes impossible to deny.
Despite the compliments, Strange Circus is downright uncomfortable and nearly unwatchable at times. Case in point our main character Mitsuko, brutally molested and abused by her father. Daddy has some serious sexual issues as he gets off by forcing her into a cello case with a hole to watch him and the wife have sex. And then vise versa as he rapes his young daughter. Sono doesnít dance around the issue; he throws viewers into the bedroom rotating between mother and daughter as they both struggle for identity. Throughout this, Mitsuko discusses how she feels trapped, unable to escape utter doom. She says, ďItís almost like I was born on the execution stand, anyway. If not, I was born to my mother as she waited execution. Iíve been standing in for her ever since.Ē While the film yanks the viewer into this gripping story of abuse, 30 minutes in it suddenly cuts to a wheelchair-bound woman writing a novel. Turns out Mitsukoís tale was just that, a story by a reclusive author with a twisted sex life. Or is it? From this point, Strange Circus heads back and forth through time, realities, and identities. To go any deeper into the plot wouldnít be right, but in the end, this emerges a deep, psychological film more than standard horror. Sure, graphic events occur (a nasty scene with a limbless body and a chainsaw), but itís all for effect, giving the audience insight into what could mold a disturbed mind from a daughter and mother switching souls upon death. And no, this isnít the Japanese equivalent of Judge Reinhold and Fred Savageís epic Vise Versa, though it did remind of that at times. On second thought, perhaps a cameo by that duo would have elevated Strange Circus into a whole new category.
Video / Audio
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Video: 1.85 Anamorphic Widescreen
Strange Days: A 70-minutes behind-the-scenes featuring auditions, interviews, and cast readings. It effectively shows Sonoís brilliance at work.
Photo Gallery: Everyone's favorite DVD feature, which has a lot of pics.
Original Trailer: Yep, that means there's a trailer.
It's a deep, psychological film that's more than standard horror. If you dig a battle of the mind and a ton of unanswered questions, you'll enjoy.