Tentacle-Free Anime: "Midori" (1992) Review
- by Kazekun, 25 May 2015
How squeamish are you? I'm pretty squeamish, but I've come to discover over the years that I'm much more squeamish when it comes to things happening to real people rather than animated ones. There's something about the animated style that allows everything to become more acceptable to the senses. And so I thought I might watch what is considered to be one of the goriest, most effed up anime ever made... because of course that was a brilliant idea.
Midori: Shoujo Tsubaki, or otherwise known as: Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show or The Camellia Girl has quite the history. Starting out as a sort of cautionary tale in Showa Era Japan, and retold through the years, the story was eventually remade into an ero-guro (erotic-gory) manga by Suehiro Maruo. A manga that you can actually buy here in America today. Even more so after that, one Hiroshi Harada decided he wanted to animate this take on the story and set out to do so all by himself. Limited by both the lack of funds and technology of the day, Harada ended up hand-drawing every frame of this movie causing for beautifully rendered imagery; however majority of the film is made up of still imagery rather than fully animated scenes.
Eventually, the film was banned by the Japanese Government and portions of the film were destroyed entirely. I'm not sure why they didn't destroy the whole film, but considering what still lies inside I'm incredibly curious as to what was so bad about the material that was destroyed. However, I think this I where the film suffers the most. Like I said, it's alright, and most of that is due to a lot of weird jumps the scenes will take, where I heavily assume the footage was cut. These transitions are awkward and ultimately hurt the experience of the narrative.
That being said, Harada tries his damndest and what we get isn't a bad experience just an awkward one. If anything, it's incredibly experimental and that lands itself some very much deserved cult following cred.
The characters are interesting ones. Midori is pretty cookie cutter to begin with, but goes through a well-thought out character arc as she is abused and raped throughout the film by the various freaks at the freak show. At first she learns to accept her fate, but when hope is dangled in front of her and then ripped away, all the gloves are off and Midori's pain comes flowing out. The various freaks, ranging from a man with no arms and bandages covering most of his body, to a deformed boy with a head that hangs upside down, all have their way with Midori at some point in the film – and even begin to claim her as their own. These freaks really aren't given much dimension, and the way they transition from hating Midori to eventually accepting her is rather oddly paced.
There is also the dwarf magician Wonder Masanitsu, who appears to save Midori from the hell she's been cast into. Taking over the freak show, Midori eventually falls in love with Masanitsu and their love actually seems quite genuine. Though Masanitsu has a few scenes where he seems rather controlling, throughout the story their love is actually quite endearing. And it's definitely one of my favorite parts of the film.
Although the gruesome and erotic imagery can be pretty over the top, I very much appreciate the courage it takes to put this stuff in a film when you know it's going to freak out most of your audience. I also highly appreciate the effort it must've taken to get in such details when hand-drawing each frame. There's one scene I'm thinking of in particular where Masanitsu creates an illusion of the audience – who is turning against him – and they begin to mutate and deform in rapid succession and in rather unique ways. It's one of the highlights of the film by far, and hints at Masanitsu being more than just a simple illusionist.
Midori: Shoujo Tsubaki can be watched online, although the subtitles are pretty wonky when you do. You can read what they're saying, but the letters in the subtitles are spaced out from one another near-illegibly. The film was never wide-released in Japan, and most copies are bootleg if you find one (thus the wonky subtitles online), although in my research I discovered that in 2006 Cine Malta of France did release the film commercially with English Subtitles but this is the only known commercial release. So if you own a copy, you're pretty dang lucky as I can't find it anywhere online to purchase.
So yeah, Midori: Shoujo Tsubaki a film with a history that is ultimately more interesting than the film itself, but due to many outside factors the film is hurt not by its own weight but by the weight of others. Should you watch it? Sure, if you think you can, then I'd definitely say check it out at least once. It has a unique standing in the history of anime and that definitely merits a once-through. Whether or not you find it to be complete rubbish, or a masterpiece, is up to you, but for me I think it's somewhere in the middle.
Final Score: 3 Armless Mummy Men out of 5
Have you seen "Midori"? How did you... like it?