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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

11:37:34 pm , 1294 words, 12536 views     Categories: Animation, Indie, Avant-Garde, Movie

Midori

The Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival rolls around this year again between October 14 and 17 at the Shinjuku Milano-za. Besides the standard sci-fi and fantasy fare, they'll be showing three anime features.

Yoshiyuki Tomino is at it again. The festival will be showing part one of his Mobile Suit Z Gundam: A New Translation, a trilogy scheduled for theatrical release next year. Like the trilogy he made two decades ago from the original 1979 Gundam series, released in 1982 in theaters, this one will be a re-edited version of the followup TV series, Zeta Gundam, which aired three years after the trilogy in 1985 as a followup to the popular original. And the rest is history. I thought it was unimpressive enough for him to go on making one Gundam series after the next, but he's reached new heights of shameless self-recycling here.

Perhaps more interestingly, the festival will feature a screening of Kakurenbo, a 25-minute independent feature made by the three-man team at Yamato-Works, comprising Shuhei Morita (director), Daisuke Sajiki (designer) and Shiro Kuro (writer). The film's visual style brings to mind Studio 4°C, with 3D animation made to look and feel like 2D animation. The film had its first major screening at a festival in Stockholm last month.

But the real centerpiece of the festival for anime fans is the screening of what is surely one of the most bizarre and mystery-shrouded anime features of the last decade: Midori. The name will probably not be familiar, but the comic on which the film was based has been released here under the title Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show. Yes, this film is an adaptation of a comic by the uncontested king of ero-guro, Maruo Suehiro. It's remarkable enough that a Maruo Suehiro anime exists in the first place, but no less remarkable are the circumstances surrounding the film's origin and presentation to the public.

Where to begin? First of all, Midori is a rather hard film to classify. It's anime, but it's not. Anime is known for being rather limited, but this film takes limited to a whole new level. It's closer to a kami shibai or paper play, a type of one-man entertainment that was popular in pre-WWII Japan. Maruo's original comic is in fact an adaptation of a kami shibai, so it's an appropriate analogy. And the remarkable thing is that this anime version really is a one-man entertainment: every drawing you see in the 52 minute film was drawn by one person, thereby making it true to the spirit of the original - a modern kami shibai. Attempting such a thing is pretty much pure insanity. It wound up taking this person five years to make the film. The madman in question is one Hiroshi Harada 原田浩.

Who is this guy, and what inspired him to do such a thing? Apparently he got a regular start in the anime industry in the 70s, but became fed up with the conservatism of the establishment, in which animators are trained to be unthinking cogs in a machine who churn out whatever the TV stations and sponsors tell them to, and decided to go independent to make the sort of films that he would never have been able to make working from inside the industry. His first film was 1979's City Nocturne, and his next two came out in 1985: Eternal Paradise and Lullaby to the Big Sleep. Lullaby turned out to be his big break, because underground filmmaker Ishii Sogo, who was on the judging panel at the Pia Film Festival where the film was screened, loved it and gave it his endorsement, which got Harada instant recognition and made it possible for him to get started on his next project: Midori.

He knocked on doors everywhere conceivable looking for sponsors, but no company was willing to back the overly daring project. So he did the only thing he could: he broke open his piggy bank and threw his life savings into the project. Having been decisively refused by the establishment for the last time, he finally did the obvious, and turned to the underground, which is where his audience had been all along. By gathering support from various sectors including avant-garde theater, his film became a sort of emblem of the 80s subculture scene. The music was contributed by J. A. Caesar, who had taken over as the leading figure of the underground theater after the death of guru Shuji Terayama. He started in 1987, worked from home, and drew everything himself. Only finishing was done elsewhere. Five years later, the incredible task was done, and Midori, the sad, strange story of a young girl sold to a travelling freak circus, was premièred in 1992.

But this is where things get interesting. Harada had already shown that he wasn't satisfied with going the normal route as a creator, and perhaps it was taking inspiration from the underground theater that he now went in a really new direction. Rather than doing regular advertising to attract the public to see the film, and holding an ordinary screening somewhere, Harada instead kept things hush hush and staged the screening as a fantastic show complete with tent, strange exhibits, music and theater -- just like the freak show in the story -- with the film as the centerpiece of the event. To accentuate the mood of the film, smoke machines filled the room with an eerie fog and fans blew cherry blossom petals through the air. At another screening, people who had reserved tickets were given maps providing directions to a secret location, where people were then individually separated and sent through a series of mazes and rooms in order to arrive at the screening room. The audience, no passive spectators, had to make considerable efforts to take part in the experience.

Rather than a mere night at the movies, then, going to see the film thus became a new kind of theatrical experience, bringing together various underground arts and artists under one three ring tent. Harada has in fact refused to allow the film to be screened without a number of these theatrical devices, nor to allow it to be released on video. So the film also comes across as a statement against the behind-closed-doors consumerism represented by the video. It is an event to be experienced in public among others on a special occasion only. For all anybody knows, the screening at the FFF, which will be a full-fledged kosher screening with attractions and all, could very well be the last. Every instance thus takes on an incredible immediacy because it is (for now) shut off from this on-demand media age. In the end, all these clever theatrical ploys have only succeeded in adding to the film's eerie mystique.

Of course, there's also the fact that the film contains graphic depictions of animals being killed, pubic hair, taboo sexual acts, and discriminatory language, which would probably be enough to prevent the film from being shown in almost any regular theater without considerable cuts even if Harada hadn't taken steps that happen to keep that from becoming an issue. The film also contains direct depiction of the emperor Hirohito, which, unless I'm mistaken, was illegal while he was still alive. The complete, original film was in fact confiscated and banned from being shown in theaters in Japan by Narita Customs (though full video prints still exist), but apparently this doesn't hold any force, since the film is still being shown, albeit presumably in censored form. Even if one never gets to see the film, as is quite likely, it's still a film that fires the imagination, and it almost beckons one to try to come up with it in one's own head, which is perhaps what was intended from the start.

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24 comments

jfrog
jfrog [Visitor]

I’ve been experiencing animation burnout, but just reading that a movie like Midori exists was enough for me to fall back in love with the medium all over again. Thank you.

Can you give me some information on Harada’s other movies? And have any of them been released in Japan on DVD or laserdisc?

09/22/04 @ 21:18
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Sorry for the tease. Harada’s films were never released on DVD or LD. He is a very minor and little-known figure compared to contemporaries like Okamoto and Kawamoto. However much I respect his reasons for preventing distribution, I do hope his films come out on DVD one day, considering all the work he put into them. They sound like they deserve to be seen.

As for his other films, information about Harada is practically nonexistent, so I know very little beyond what I’ve already said except that Lullaby to the Big Sleep (Nido to mezamenu komori uta 二度と目覚めぬ子守唄) is 27 minutes, 8mm, and has actually been programmed occasionally at more out-there festivals since its premiere. It is apparently a very abstract film that uses a wide variety of experimental techniques. On the surface it tells the story of a bucktoothed boy and the various abuses he’s made to endure, but behind this facade it’s an allegory about discrimination and oppression, making reference to controversial subjects like the popular resistance against the building of the Narita Airport in Sanrizuka. A shot from the film:

About the earlier films, City Nocturne and Eternal Paradise (Kagirinaki rakuen 限りなき楽園), I know nothing, nor whether he’s done anything since Midori. Harada is nothing if not mysterious. I think Midori is the only one that was ever released in any format. Most recently it was included on a video documenting the various festivities surrounding a screening?/staging?/performance? held in 2000.

09/23/04 @ 18:07
jfrog
jfrog [Visitor]

That’s really frustrating. The showings sound like amazing events - one of my favorite musicians (Jason Webley) does some similar things, so I can appreciate that. But he also releases albums for those of us that don’t want to have to wait six months between concerts to hear ‘Dance While the Sky Crashes Down’ again.

09/23/04 @ 19:36
TenAJs
TenAJs [Visitor]

Well slap me silly!
For years I’ve been looking for informative info on Midori: The Girl in the Freakshow online and found nothing until I read the title of this post. I skipped quite a few beats. Thank you! yada yada..
Ah, more enticing now will be to hope to see the film itself one day…

This comment system eats up a lot of posts… After “submit” and there is any error, I can get back to this page but the post is all gone and it has to be retyped… Just letting you know.

09/25/04 @ 10:49
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Yeah, not only the comment system, the posting system too! I’ve had to restart many a post for that reason. Sorry about that. Nothing much I can do about it.

09/25/04 @ 10:55
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

According to the talk before the screening last night, the film will not be shown again for at least 8 years, if ever. I’m not sure why. Either because of restrictions or just because of all the difficulties involved in setting up a screening. Harada looks pretty tired from all the preliminaries in that photo.

10/15/04 @ 11:49
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

This is an ancient ancient post but I recently stumbled across Midori somewhere, and I knew it’d at least be mentioned here. Thanks for the writeup. It’s such a difficult show to find… that makes it more alluring, I suppose.

07/22/05 @ 20:39
your name here__________ .
your name here__________ . [Visitor]

MIDORI now on dvd in Europe…

07/07/06 @ 08:54
Angela
Angela [Visitor]

I live in HK and just saw Midori tonight at an anime festival. I walked into the theatre with my partner with little preconceived ideas, except that it would be quite disturbing. And we were not disappointed!

It had everything: sadomasochism, pedophilia, snuff, bondage… list goes on. All in 52 minutes. The poor little protagonist goes from horror to horror, all before she has even developed pubes.

First she discovers her mother had died before she returned from selling flowers, and rats were already feeding on her. She then joins a freak show, under the impression of ‘protection’ but is then repeatedly assaulted by all manner of grotesquely disfigured beings.

Then a midget magician joins the show and falls in love with Midori. She returns his affections and has his protection from the rest of the motley crew. He has incredible powers of mind suggestion and business booms for the show, until one night when in a rage he uses up his store of powers.

Next thing they know, the leader had taken off with their profits and the show has to shut down. Midori leaves with the magician to a new life elsewhere… a dream she has always longed for. As they wait at the bus stop for their ride, cherry blossom petals rain down on them.

The magician leaves Midori at the bus stop to buy food when he is stabbed to death in the village. Midori waits till their bus came and went, and worried decides to go and look for him. She never does find his body and the show ends with her in hopeless despair.

Around this point something weird happens too. A peasant with a load on his back keeps appearing and coughing… this happens 3 times. And Midori seems to be running around in circles.

At the end of the show one can’t help but try to decipher the hidden meanings, but it’s an impossible task. I hope to have the chance of seeing it again one day.

07/30/06 @ 08:17
Ben [Member]  

Thanks for the great review!

08/06/06 @ 12:02
Danniable
Danniable [Visitor]

Hear is a link to the torrent of the DVD rip. It has english subtitles and is good quality.

http://www.deadfrog.us/index.php?act=entry&id=7604

02/09/07 @ 08:53
Stephen
Stephen [Visitor]

I see this link to a torrent, but I’m in two minds as to whether I should use it. The information in this post has given me increased reverence for this animator, such that it would feel wrong to do so… Ah what the hell, I’ve got to see it! It’s inspired me to write about this phenomenon in my animation blog too! (I’ll watch it first if this torrent is still good - unlikely).

03/15/07 @ 03:31
-
- [Visitor]  

http://www.crunchyroll.com/showseries?id=1275
Its currently shown here - english subtitles/good quality, its free but you have to sign up.

07/16/07 @ 22:41
Simon
Simon [Visitor]  

Heres a free link for the movie… site pretty good to. All free, no sign-ups…
http://www.asian-horror-movies.com/mid.php

Would like if some ppl could tell me other interesting movies to watch, thx.

07/16/09 @ 17:47
zytroop
zytroop [Visitor]  

I just want to tall ya that Lullaby to the Big Sleep, or The Death Lullaby, was breifly available on DVD from the shop TACOché in Nakano Broadway. Here is a cached description from their online store

It is a handmade package and the DVD is a TDK DVDr with a hand written title, signature and edition number.

12/07/09 @ 08:32
Ben [Member]  

You seen it? Is it good? I’d be curious to hear any comments on his pre-Midori films.

12/08/09 @ 12:22
dan
dan [Visitor]  

i know this is a very old thread but i recently discovered midori by chance and the work of hiroshi harusa fascinate me, if anyone know where i can get any of his earlier films it would be very appreciated.
haruda is now apparently involved in two new films, one of them ‘the karakuri’ really looks like his art style of midori and death lullaby, it tells the story of 2 mutated and often abused children who meet and fall in love, sounds amazing.
info; http://kiryukan.at.infoseek.co.jp/midoritop.htm

01/01/10 @ 12:44
Ben [Member]  

That’s great news. Thanks for pointing this out.

I had a hard time locating the relevant information on the page, so here it is quoted for everyone else:

“This is a new work anime film of Kiryukan that an exhibition is planned in 2019. Kiryukan produces a new movie for 25 years after having completed Midori. The new project is divided into two movies. The running time of project is a four hours. The animated picture is a 50,000 sheet.”

Check out the two trailers linked. They both look amazing. The ‘Zashiki’ one with the mutants has very nice production values and art direction. The other one looks quite interesting from a directing and story standpoint and has some great dialogue and natural voice acting, though the drawings are less interesting. But 2019?! That’s kind of ridiculous.

Also note that this page mentions a limited edition DVD of ‘The Death Lullaby’ is available in Japan now. Anyone seen this? I’d like to get my hands on it. The trailer features some natural FX sequences that have stellar animation quality. And it looks like a great film.

I’m really happy to hear Hiroshi Harada is being rediscovered and is active making new films!

01/01/10 @ 13:15
pete
pete [Member]

2019? As if he could predict what could happen in 10 years….

I remember an interview of Stratos Stasinos, one of the founding members of CARTOON (European Association of Animation Film, http://www.cartoon-media.be/).

He studied film and animation in Paris. Though he at first started with animation, he later moved to film and documentaries. In an interview 2 years ago when he was asked why he does not undertake an animated feature anymore, he answered that animation, except a bigger budget, requires also a longer timeframe, around 4-5 years and at his age (he was in his 60s), he did not feel he could accomplish this anymore. He left unfinished a stop-motion animation that was his personal work and is highly praised.

I guess he knew what was coming, because he died from cancer in November.

01/04/10 @ 02:49
dan
dan [Visitor]  

pete, whats the source of your information? i watched the interview with him on the midori dvd and hes a very young guy,he completed his death lullaby film at the age of 20, im pretty sure he hasnt passed away, he also attended a screening of midori in hong kong last november and is still working hard on his new projects. perhaps hiroshi harada is a common japanese name and youve researched into the wrong guy.

ben, i managed to find the shop that sells the death lullaby dvd here http://tacoche.com/?p=1257 apparently its only available in this store and each disc is signed by harada, im not sure if the disc can be bought online as the sites in japanese (babelfish doesnt help much) but the store, i belive is in shinjuku where a friend of mine lives, i am going to make it my mission to get a hold of this and befriend a fansub group that would be willing to translate it.
lets revive this thread im glad to have found appreciators of haradas genius, ive shown midori to friends but they just dont get it.

01/05/10 @ 11:57
pete
pete [Member]

dan, no I was talking about another animator/director from Greece. He was one of the founding members of CARTOON (he took also part in the first commitee). I just wanted to show the contrast. On the one hand one who says his work will be complete at least in 10 years and on the other hand an animator who at his age finds it difficult to direct an animated film, hence he prefers film and documentaries. It was he who died this november and not Harada

01/06/10 @ 06:45
Jen
Jen [Visitor]  

Midori is only 10 minutes long on asian horror movies (the link above), and it didn’t serve it any justice. Does anyone know where I can watch the full film? It looks like a really interesting film.

05/17/10 @ 21:23
ost
ost [Visitor]  

you can get the full film of midori in great quality at asiandvdclub.org you have to sign up but its worth it as they have numerous offbeat anime and film

10/22/10 @ 11:59
Jordan Scott
Jordan Scott [Visitor]  

The licensed, English-subtitled DVD that these rips are from is distributed in France, one can buy it with international shipping from http://video.fnac.com/a2184225/Midori-DVD-Zone-2 and see it in better quality than any rip and support English-subtitling of indie anime and Harada in his current project as well.

11/24/10 @ 13:55