Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Cinematic Life of Midori

In Hiroshi Harada's Midori (Shojo tsubaki, '92), the title character is an orphan who is rescued by Mr. Arashi, the owner of a traveling freakshow.

Finding herself at the center of the freaks' violent and bizarre sexual fantasies, the twelve year old girl's spirit of hope is crushed and her future looks headed for an abyss.

But when an eccentric dwarf with a kind heart, Mr. Masamitsu ("The Bottled Wonder"), joins the circus...

...he takes Midori under his wing, and a strange love blossoms.

But the freaks are angry that their sexual plaything has been snatched away.

This intensely beautiful and shockingly brutal film is based on Suehiro Maruo's stunning manga, Mr Arashi's Amazing Freak Show, which was published to critical acclaim and much controversy in 1984. It was a monument to surreal illustration and graphic storytelling in the grotesque vein.

The film has had a bizarre and fascinating history.

Director Hiroshi Harada recalls what attracted him to the project, which he created almost single-handedly over a period of five years: "Ever since I saw a coarse and shocking show at a Shintoist festival in my childhood,I was inspired to become a full color, animated show designer. When I came across Suehiro Maruo's original work, I wanted to arrange it in my own way, and that is how this project came about. At first producing this work was extremely difficult, and no Japanese movie or video production company dared to take it on."

Initially in Japan, the film was not screened in traditional theaters.

Explains Hirada: "Midori was screened in a labyrinth-like show tent specially designed and constructed and in a secret underground space adapted for showing alternative works. Moreover, it is a complex three-dimensional work using live performances, movable stages, gun powder, smoke machines, full color kimonos and obis, lifelike dolls, three projectors, and lighting schemes inspired by Kabuki theater and Edo magic lantern pictures...In the last scene, cherry blossom would be cast down on you from the ceiling like snowflakes. This is how Midori was usually presented in Japan."

"After screening the film independently in 1992 in an underground chamber, Midori was then screened from 1994 as an R-15 film in Japanese and overseas theatres (it is now R-18).

"In 1999, when a print of the film was returned from an overseas film festival, it was confiscated by the censors at Narita customs and destroyed, since by this time the film had been banned (from being shown theatrically) in Japan. From thereon, it was only shown off videotape in Japan."

Harada was born in '62, his DVD bio notes, and raised in Japan, "...a society known for its alcohols and geishas. He studied Confucian Ethics and History of Kinseki Calligraphy at the Shinju Academy of Calligraphy. Inspired by the film Gertie The Dinosaur, directed by Windor McKay, he started making animated Super-8 films at the age of 14.

"Influenced by the Independent Producing Movement -- a movement led by the director Satsuo Yamamoto which emerged after the Red Purge that took place in the Japanese industry in the mid-50's -- and the aesthetics of ATG (Art Theatre Guild), led by the director Shuji Terayama in the 60's, he started making commercial anmated films (Doraemon and Mezon-Ikkoku) at the age of 20. He was also an apprentice to Kenzo Koizumi, the key animator of Space Battleship Yamato."

Due to its truly independent production structure, Harada's Midori possesses a powerful, unpolished purity of form and content.

It is a creature of beauty, cruelty, sadness, and brutality.

A work of unbridled imagination.

Harada discusses his style and intentions: "I produced the work in the TV animation, lovable style so that young people, who are never taught the ugliness of the world in school, could see Midori."

As the film is rarely "full motion", it remains close to its manga origins.

It is rougher and grittier than its source, and its nihilism is more potent.

Maruo and Harada both owe a debt to Todd Brownsing's seminal freak film, Freaks, and others from that era such as The Unknown, The Unholy Three, and Dead of Night.

These were all works that opted to enter the bizarre world of the physically marginalized and look out, rather than creep up to the edge and look in (or down, as was often the case).

To me, Midori is everything I love about Art, a work that challenges our sensitivities and reminds us that our moral choices alter destiny.


The Midori DVD(Sylicone) is available from Cine Malta.


Japanese artists creating brilliant work in the same vein include Hideshi Hino...

Toshio Saeki...

and Junji Ito

1 comment:

  1. "taught the ugliness of the world?"

    if i knew of the ugliness of the world, the last thing i want to do is share it with children.

    this sick motherfucker probably shows footage of the concentration camps to his children, not knowing it would leave an indelible mark on their souls, not of understanding, but of perversion and lifelong desire to replicate it.

    that's why learning is a natural process. you learn as your mind develops so you have the maturity and intelligence to contextualize situations.

    idiots who thing pornography contributes to any of this are just turning their children into weirdos.