Strange Circus (2005) is Sion Sono’s third film debut and arguably his most sophisticated. It’s the first to truly ground some of the key themes and directional styling that are so familiar within his recent work to this day. The story starts as narrated by Mitsuko, a girl who lives in a house filled with traps, as she calls them. She’s forced by her father, who is also her school’s principal, to engage in perverse sexual activities, eventually leading to her being molested by him. Their relationship is quite shocking and no less than repulsive. He often likes to reinforce the idea of male dominance into Mitsuko, making her repeat the fact that she is a woman and he is a man. He leads her to a cello case with a peephole right before he and his wife, Sayuri, have sex.
He opens the cello case for Sayuri and presents Mitsuko, calling her a bad girl for watching them. He then pushes the madness even further by forcing Sayuri into the cello case. This is where the movie really begins to bend reality as Mitsuko and Sayuri switch roles. What was once a loving relationship between mother and daughter and now a competition. Mitsuko begins to see herself as Sayuri and Sayuri becomes jealous of Mitsuko. This leads to events to even further push the audience into a perverse, disturbing spiral into chaos; all the while we are briefly interrupted throughout with beautiful circus scenes and surreal environment changes (such as the halls of the school covered in blood) acting as metaphors for what we are watching.
The movie then turns focus towards a writer, played by the same actress as Sayuri, who is writing a novel about all of the events that we’ve seen leading up to this point. Obviously, questions are raised; Is she writing an autobiography? If so, is this Mitsuko or Sayuri writing this? Was everything else fictitious? You’ll have to watch for yourself to find out, but what I can say is the payoff is an amazing film that plays with your emotions and isn’t shy to show us all the graphic details. If you’re familiar with Sion Sono’s work you’ll find a lot of aspects of Strange Circus to be familiar and even if you are not, there’s a ton of film here to break down and analyze.
Strange Circus is a movie Hitchcock might be proud of, if it wasn’t so disturbingly perverse and never shy. This movie is not for those seeking a run of the mill drama; you must enter Strange Circus prepared to see some of the most shocking and deranged, but the end reward is beautiful and completely worth it; I can’t recommend this film enough. Most Asian film buffs won’t have any problems with the graphic nature of this film but I feel the need to still give fair warning.