MidoriAdults-only anime madness that’s profoundly stylish, outrageous and disturbing. In addition, it’s undoubtedly the ultimate movie (after FREAKS) about a traveling freak show.

MR. ARASHI’S AMAZING FREAK SHOW, published in English by Blast Books in 1991, was a popular manga by the ero-guro (erotic grotesque) maestro Suehiro Maruo. It contains all of Maruo’s trademarks—rape, deformity, eyeball licking, erupting entrails—contained in a powerfully surreal narrative that’s equal parts ALICE IN WONDERLAND and FREAKS.

The manga was adapted into the 1992 anime MIDORI (SHOJO TSUBAKI: CHIKA GENTO GEKIGA), a five year labor of love by director/animator Hiroshi Harada, who personally animated the film himself and reportedly used his life savings to do so. The finished film was banned and is alleged to have been destroyed, with only bootleg videos and a 2006 PAL DVD keeping it alive.

The doe-eyed Midori lives in a slum. One day she discovers that her mother has died and, in complete despair, joins a traveling carnival. This carnival, unfortunately, is populated by freaks and hermaphrodites who from the start abuse and degrade Midori unmercifully—as an example, when Midori discovers a litter of cute puppies one of the carnival’s performers kills the dogs and turns them into soup. The torments only increase when business starts to wane and Midori is blamed.

But then a strange dwarf named Wonder Masamitsu joins the carnival. Among other things, this freak can squeeze his body into glass bottles. He becomes a huge draw for the carnival, and in the process romances Midori. Masamitsu also uses his magic to protect Midori from her tormentors.

Unfortunately Masamitsu also becomes quite petty and controlling. When Midori crosses him he imprisons her in one of his bottles, and when his audience upsets him he imparts nightmarish hallucinations in which the audience members all become hellishly deformed and explode.

One morning Masamitsu heads off to the town market and is stabbed to death by a robber. Thus, an increasingly angry and traumatized Midori is left alone once again.

MIDORI isn’t merely faithful to its source material, but actually takes its animation directly from the Suehiro Maruo manga. Thus MIDORI’S visuals consist largely of still pictures animated with minimal movement and voice-over dialogue. The effect is not unlike the “motion comic” films of WATCHMEN and THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH, although director/animator Hiroshi Harada adds many arrestingly quirky touches.

The animation has real style and verve, and also imparts an altogether unique brand of surrealism. This is evident in a scene where Midori is taunted by a hermaphrodite that concludes with a bizarre freeze frame of Midori’s tormentor sprouting a snake neck and breathing fire, all accompanied by an eerily calm, minimalist score. The effect is odd and fascinating, and approximates Suehiro Maruo’s brand of perverse surrealism quite memorably. Nor does Hiroshi Harada shy away from Maruo’s more outrageous excesses, replicating the manga’s bloodletting and perversion without apology or restraint, and with the profoundly bleak ending left intact.

Vital Statistics

MIDORI (SHOJO TSUBAKI: CHIKA GENTO GEKIGA)
Kiryukan

Director/Producer/Screenwriter: Hiroshi Harada
(Based on a graphic novel by Suehiro Maruo)
Cinematography: Nobuyuki Sugaya
Cast (voices): Minako Naka, Norihiko Morishita, Keinosuke Okamoto, Kazuyoshi Hayashi, Yoshifumi Nomura, Sanae Kato, Yumiko Takagi, Akiko Tanaka, Koji Imoto