Director: Hiroshi Harada
Screenplay: Hiroshi Harada
Based on the manga Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show (1984) by Suehiro Maruo
Voice Cast: Minako Naka (as Midori); Norihiko Morishita (as Wonder Masanitsu (voice); Keinosuke Okamoto (as Koijirô Arashi); Kazuyoshi Hayashi (as Akaza); Yoshifumi Nomura (as Muchisute)
Synopsis: Midori is a teenage girl living in Japan in the 1920s, who comes home one day after selling flowers only to find her mother has died when she returns home. Completely alone in the world, she takes the advice of a hat wearing older man who regularly talks to her to join his business, only to be horrified that she has been brought into a travelling carnival freak show. Subjected to constant torment, Midori's salvation may lay in a dwarf magician, pulling larger crowds to the show when he's hired, who has fallen madly in love with her.
The background of Midori is exceptionally important in terms of how the final film, difficult for some to still see, ended up as it did. The Midori figure - which can be better learnt about from a expert in THIS ARTICLE that introduced me to this anime - originates from a paper play from the twenties, part of a style of storytelling in Japan where pictures were used. Legendary manga author Suehiro Maruo, who would innovate the ero-guro genre in comics, transformed the character into his most well known work Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show; sadly I am yet to read the book, as its been out of print in the west for decades, but it's an important work still, a recent 2016 live action adaptation an emphasis on its importance to still be adapted.
The most notorious adaptation however is a creation of one man, dissatisfied animator Hiroshi Harada who left an industry he felt crushed his creativity in the late seventies and became an experimental, underground animator whose Midori was entirely funded by his own savings, made over five years with Maruo's blessing and with additional help, avant-garde musician J. A. Seazer creating the score and people from theatre clubs to S&M clubs helping along the way. The final result of this is a fragment, censored and only allowed to be screened in Japan through his specific screening rules, that it's the centre of an elaborate carnival setting. This background could easily overshadow a lesser animation were it not for the fact that Midori, whilst frankly a mess in places, is absolutely compelling too.
The first half is where the infamy of Midori is found, at its most gruesome and horrifying as Midori, who finds her mother dead being eaten by rats, finds herself amongst the carnival employees - an older woman who works with snakes, a boy acrobat who dresses and acts like a girl, a heavy bandaged man with no arms, a strongman etc - and the trauma she goes through at the beginning. The childhood innocent of fairy tales, attempting to survive the worst tendencies in people, is dumped in the midst of incredible taboos and transgression. Rape, being forced to briefly be the carnival geek who bites the heads of chickens and snakes, and general insults amongst the ways as she is broken down. There's also, a warning even though its animated, the sight of puppies Midori is looking after being graphically killed with fully detailed dog intestines and brain matter. I can fully understand anyone, from the first half of Midori, viewing it as misogynistic and vile but it's also a matter of how its structured that makes it the weakest part of the short film.
From the beginning Midori is clearly an incredible artistic creation that one person may have literally bled to finish. Like Belladonna of Sadness (1973), it uses a lot of still images with minimal movement, saving the fluid animation for certain points which stand out more. The artistry is incredible from Hiroshi Harada - a professional animator before he abandoned it, this is exceptionally well made, detailed in backdrops and characters, highly colourful at points. It's in fact, if you compare it to images from the original manga, scarily accurate to Maruo's art style onscreen, making the first half more gross and disturbing. The first half however feels like a truncated collage of events from the original manga as well, likely where the censorship took place in how abruptly some of the scene transitions and scene edits feel, causing a barrage of atrocities to be felt at the same time that will more than likely put people off but also feel less coordinated in tone.
Midori is a flat figure, which makes the series of disturbing images and scenes more shocking, but a huge factor to ero-guro working is a pace, allowing the images to linger and be felt carefully, something which the first half fails in. It may have the most transgressive content that is marked within the genre - deformity, sexual perversions like eyeball licking, sexual violence and more - but, whether you find such stories morally acceptable or not, they need to be carefully paced and considered in their use of transgressions, and they need to contain a sense of purposely targeting the viewer with intent beyond merely shock value, or it becomes a mess like the beginning of this.
The second half where Wonder Masanitsu, the dwarf magician who knows western magic and can use illusion to put himself into a glass bottle, is introduced is when Midori drastically changes for the better in presentation. Most of the short length of the film is devoted to this plot, offering a snapshot of a fascinating story where the carnival folk are impoverished and underpaid by their accountant, jealous of Masanitsu being able to pack in the crowds as his love for Midori, whilst possessive, is sincere and loving of her. Their romance even leads to some incredibly sweet moments which, in the midst of the horrible images shown between, do have a greater emotional punch to them, from an almost psychedelic take on their courtship, their heads on dragonflies in one shot for the most abstract moment within it, to him briefly letting Midori live out if her mother and father were still in her life. The story goes as far as include back story on Western magic being introduced into Japan, whether historically real or not, which offers brief moments of additional flesh to the material.
It's in the second half as well that the best aspect of Midori sticks out, its surreal and experimental nature producing unconventional flourishes. It immediately can be heard from the narration in the beginning of the film, over gothic Japanese art, which is very poetic and abstract, but continues further in the general tone. The art style emphasises it but the presentation in general especially as it paces itself more carefully creates a living drawing where every hand painted figure on screen stands out. The more phantasmagoric moments of the film, in the first and second half, emphasis this. Midori's nightmare of irrational behaviour and her limbs contorting in random directions. Quicksand with ants. Masanitsu finally snapping at his audience and mutating their bodies in pure hallucination, the centre piece of creepy images in the entire film as drawn bodies transform and explode. J. A. Seazer's music, while some of is ridiculous in terms of soft synth music, is also a major assistance in adding grandeur to the film; he would later manage to pull anime fans into his sonic headspace when he got to score music for Kunihiko Ikuhara's legendary TV series Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997).