Friday, September 22, 2017
Anime DVDs You May Have Missed: “Midori”
Publisher: Ciné Malta (France)
Format: Region 2 DVD, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English, French, Spanish, Italian and German Subtitles
Length: 49 minutes
Production Date: 1992
English Version Release Date: 18 May 2006
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes
Note: Originally published on the Anime Archivist blog February 2014.
There has been a number of really strange anime releases over the years, but none more so than this DVD release of “Chika Gento Gekiga: Shojo Tsubaki”, or “Underground Projected Dramatic Pictures: Camellia Girl”. This isn’t your typical anime. In fact I’d say that there is nothing else like it on the market. Unsurprisingly practically no English language anime video review or news site mentioned the title when it released on DVD. It’s not exactly something that most anime fans would be inclined to hunt down. Personally, I discovered the existence of this DVD by accident. Based upon Suehiro Maruo’s “ero guro” manga which was released as “Mr Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show” in the US in the early 1990’s (out of print and usually sold second hand for US$90 upwards), it is truly a bizarre piece of work and is truly only recommended for those who like “esoteric” works. There’s really not much else to do but to plunge into the synopsis of the show. I will say now that if you are the tiniest bit squeamish, you might want to skip the next two paragraphs
The troupe is deep in the red, but a salvation appears with the arrival of a new act; a dwarf magician named Wonder Masamitsu, whose signature trick is getting himself inside and out of a glass jar. He takes an instant liking to Midori and the feelings are mutual. Midori becomes Masamitsu’s assistant on stage and quickly becomes the troupe’s draw card. The other performers become jealous and begin to terrorise Midori again. However Masamitsu uses his magic to subdue them and even manages to get them to do Midori’s chores. But Uchisute, the performing armless man of the troupe, decides that he wants to be Midori’s lover and attempts to woo her away from him. Masamitsu discovers what is going on and kills him in a fit of rage. Midori witnesses the murder and becomes frightened of him, but he persuades her not to tell the rest of the performers. Masamitsu’s dominance over Midori reaches its limit when he angrily tells off a talent scout wishing to cast her in a film. Midori is furious at him. He retaliates by placing her inside his glass jar. Later that night at the troupe’s performance Masamitsu is heckled by the crowd. In a rage using his magic, he temporarily transforms the entire audience’s bodies into grotesque shapes, which cause some to burst and their internal organs to spill out. The dwarf has had enough and leaves the company with Midori in tow. Unfortunately for the troupe, the freak show’s manager runs off with their money.
The film itself is not just a retelling of Suehiro Maruo’s manga. Director Hiroshi Harada decided not to just create the film and distribute it in cinemas as you would with normal film. Instead the film became part of a larger performance piece. I suspect this wasn’t the original intent. Harada could not find any one to fund the film, and with the subject matter a proper theatrical distribution deal would be pretty much impossible. The premiere of the film in May 1992 was held inside a giant red tent inside the grounds of the Mitake Jinja Shinto shrine in Tokyo. Inside the elaborately decorated tent, underground theatre group Aka Neko Za (Red Cat Theatre) performed stage acts similar to the freaks in the film. Fire eaters and other acts also performed. Later screenings/performances became secretive affairs with deliberately confusing flyers, cryptic signs pointing to were the performance was being held, and patrons had to enter through dark labyrinths before getting to the actual venue. During the actual screenings of the film (performances by the theatre group were either side of it), the Aka Neko Za members would throw objects (as they were thrown onscreen in the animation) into the audience and even do live sound effects. When the film toured overseas film festivals (sans elaborate live performance pieces), promotional material had director Hiroshi Harada under the pseudonym “Hisaaki Ezu”, who was “currently missing”.
Despite the fact that the director to a large degree deliberately made the film incredibly difficult to view, somehow French video distributor Ciné Malta managed to obtain the rights to release it on DVD in 2006. Luckily it includes English subtitles, as well as French, Spanish, Italian and German. Either Harada or Ciné Malta wanted to make this film accessible to as many people possible. This release flies the face of the fact that Harada has for more than a decade flat out refused to release the film on video before, especially in Japan. The DVD comes with a number of features including an insightful interview with Harada, a very comprehensive look at the Japanese performances pieces which involved the film, and a 16 page booklet, in both French and English. The easiest way to get the film is from Amazon.fr. However occasionally stock can be hard to come by.