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Shudder Exclusive: Kuso-The Anti La-La Land

Published July 25, 2017 by rmpixie

Kuso (2017, 1 hr, 45 mins.)

 

A forest sparkling with fairy dust, it’s woodland floor peppered with what can only be called anus mounds; psychedelic collages of body parts flashing before your eye to an electronic beat; poxy-faced characters in absurd and disturbing circumstances as they struggle through the literal muck of life. That muck, which at first looks like your garden variety sludge, is actually made up of the complexity and randomness of everyday drudgery. All of this can be found wrapped in a psychedelic, comedy/horror package of interconnected segments in the Shudder Exclusive of Kuso, directed by DJ and artistic virtuoso, Flying Lotus aka Steve Ellison.

Kuso opens with a spoken word chorus, or “news pirate” (Regan Farquhar aka Busdriver) hijacking a news report of an earthquake that has hit Los Angeles, and carries on to various TV spots showing the aftereffects of this seismic event on a motley crew of characters. In Royal, a young man partakes in erotic asphyxiation administered by his loving sister who has a secret. Then we have Smear, with a bullied boy whose mother forces him to eat horrific meals. He is ridiculed in school because of his intestinal discomfort and when he runs away, comes across a magical forest with a feces hungry anus-like creature. There is a woman in a subterranean hell as she searches for her baby in Sock, and finally Mr. Quiggle takes us on a journey of another woman who deals with her dating dilemma and her “trans-dimensional” monster roommates, and a man who seeks radical treatment for his fear of breasts.

What we have here is, to me, a nightmarish commentary on the current social and political climate. The reviews have not been overly receptive to the film, citing the over-the-top gross-out scenarios as too obvious or beyond the reach of comprehension. They have also compared the film to the works of David Lynch and David Cronenberg, which makes sense with the bizarre subject matter and body horror. I beg to differ with these reviews for the most part however, because as a person of colour, I see it as a psychedelic, avant-garde and horrific approach to life as a marginalized person.

Avant-garde film, music and comedy is often seen as a white endeavour, but one only has to remember the epitome of avant-garde art, Jean-Michel Basquiat; the afro-futurist movement with Parliament-Funkadelic’s George Clinton (who plays “Dr. Clinton” with his bowel motivated treatments); the cyber-punk gore fests of Japanese horror; the musical DNA from Flying Lotus’s grand-uncle legendary saxophonist John Coltrane; and the decades of spoken word poetry based in the bebop/hip-hop arena to realize this is untrue. Snobbery would consider the latter to be merely a symptom of the “urban” experience with popular music and art of today, but dig deeper and you’ll find modern observations on life as a marginalized or Black person in continually trying times, like the thought-provoking news pirate chorus at the start and end of the film. This is why the Black director and cast composed of mostly people of colour is so important. It shows that we too have a sensibility for the avant-garde, perhaps even more so since some of our real-life experiences can be surreal and literal representations in modern film can often be too painful to watch.

Each sore-riddled character in the vignettes lives on the fringe of society in their filthy abodes. They are the antithesis of the meet-cute, rom-com story, the absent father tearjerker or the mild-mannered guy overcoming his fears. Dialogue in the film mimics formulaic scripts like the intimate, after-sex talk between lovers or the awkward comedy between strangers that just may become friends, and characters sport grotesque skin eruptions instead of picture perfect skin, making the film an abomination of the squeaky-clean Hollywood crank that the masses are addicted to or sick of. That this earthquake takes place in L.A. isn’t unusual, in fact, it is most telling as this is the very place that ideals of how we should live are created even though many a civil unrest has taken place there. In the current climate where racial tensions and turmoil are coming to a head, the earthquake has pushed the build-up of all the white-washing and cover-ups to the surface, spewing forth the discontent, anxieties, fears and truths of the ignored and gagged masses, much like the pus, semen and feces that bubbles from Kuso’s characters.

Although we are now in the internet age, the use of television is so important in this film. One story leads to another from endless screens of all-seeing eyes in each household, illustrating how TV has become a part of everyday life, an extension of ourselves; guiding us in what we should be doing or consuming and feeding us edited and suspect news stories. It is still one of the most powerful electronic mediums in society today as Marshal McLuhan once prolifically predicted, and Hollywood has always been the defining force in what we consume, being the makers of the messages sent through these electronic mediums. When that message is continually manipulated, distorted and upended in no uncertain terms, we must reprocess what is shown to us, which is what Kuso attempts to do.

Incest and general foulness aside, I have only two issues with Kuso. One is with the Mr. Quiggle segment involving the woman “B” (rapper The Buttress) who realizes she’s pregnant and is treated like trash by her two furry TV screen faced roommates played by Hannibal Buress and Donnell Rawlings. These fantastical creatures whip excrement at her and belittle her every chance they get. While her exchanges with them are meant to be comedic, there is an underlying misogyny that can’t be missed as well as the suggestion that she has been date raped by her stalker Phil, played by comedian Tim Hiedecker. His usual Adult Swim-Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! blank-faced delivery gave this story a more disturbing turn even though “B” brushes the incident off. She is also questioned about her decision to get an abortion at the Coathanger Clinic by Manuel (Zack Fox), even thought she says that it’s her body and her right. While she is tough and holds her own with her male counterparts and her stalker does get his comeuppance, it’s a hard reminder of the struggles women endure in the real and surreal comic book world.

The other is a sign spotted in the Coathanger Clinic “B” and Manuel visit, advertising a vaccine for “N*ggapox” with a smiling white face. I will go on record to say that I will never, ever get used to hearing the “N” word, even if it’s used between Blacks and in almost every hip-hop song and Tarantino film out there, but this sign in the clinic made me stop for a moment. It seemed to be a joke, but I wondered if a deeper meaning could imply removing Blackness from society; inoculating us from the Black struggle so we can all live in oblivion and denial, or even removing it from whites who have, perhaps according to their peers, become too ingrained and involved with Black culture. I could be over thinking it, but the few gasps I heard from the mostly white audience at the screening when the camera focused on that sign gave me pause.

There is also a strong pornography element throughout the film, from flashing imagery and TV commercials to full on ejaculate, and even a cameo from porn actor Lexington Steele. Flying Lotus was interviewed by the Guardian, and he mentioned growing up in the San Fernando Valley, where he says “all the porn comes from”, making it a sort of background din for him. He manages to create this feeling of overconsumption with clips of body part collages made of magazines cut-outs undulating to catchy electronic beats that is seamlessly erotic, surreal and absurd at the same time. It desensitizes the viewer at some point, much like the constant battery of airbrushed and perfected bodies plastered before us on a daily basis.

One of the “trans-dimensional” tv monsters in Mr. Quiggle critiques a bizarre porn movie he watches stating that it was “exploitive and sexist though artful”. This along with other statements from the cast like, “I fucking hate this movie!”, is almost a foreshadowing or a mocking of what critics would think once the film was released, and Flying Lotus wasn’t wrong. While some may focus on and denounce the obvious gross-out splatter of Kuso (which is apparently a Japanese word for “shit”) that made people walk out of the 2017 Sundance screening, I challenge viewers to go a little deeper with the insanity. There might be arguments for or against this film as art, and it’s certainly not perfect and will definitely offend with themes of rape, incest and over-the-top sexual content, but it will show you life’s uglier side through fresh eyes, eyes that tire of the La-La Land universe of denial and white-wash.  I caught Kuso at a limited screening recently in Toronto, but you can now see the real dirt streaming (sorry!) exclusively on Shudder.

 

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Sevdaliza’s “Human”: An Unlikely Woman in Horror

Published February 12, 2017 by rmpixie
sevdaliza

Sevdaliza in “Human”

 

 

A screenshot of a woman, her arms stretched out, intrigued me. She had piercing dark eyes, long black hair and was wearing an intricate, bejeweled bra-like contraption that left little to the imagination. “Can you click on that one?,” I asked the horror boyfriend as we cruised different music videos one snowy, Saturday night. And so, he did. What unfolded before my eyes took me down a rabbit hole to a world of danger, sensuality and speculation.

After the strong features of a woman flicker on the screen, a waiter, ebony-skinned, handsome but with an unsettling milky eye, pushes a loaded service tray down a grand hall. He arrives at a viewing gallery populated by well-dressed men. They watch, with a palpable expectancy, the dirt floor of an empty and grand arena below. A cloaked figure descends ornate stairs; it is a woman and she moves with a strong stride into the arena. The men sit stoical but the beads of perspiration betray their stony faces as she turns and slowly drops her cape, facing them. She wears only bejeweled cups covering her breasts and a bejeweled patch between her legs. She gazes back at them calmly, and the camera cuts back to show her full body profile. We see she has the legs of an animal. Strong, hooved legs hold up her body, complimenting her curves as she begins to undulate and sway. Her face is defiant and unsmiling as the men watch, her dance exuding a confidence that conveys fearlessness and sensuality.

Each of the men’s faces show something different in their barely-there expressions. Inklings of lust, fear and fascination play on their brows as the otherworldly woman sways and her jet-black hair swirls around her. She stops and stares back at them again, while the waiter seems to watch her as if he is waiting for a cue. She lowers her head, her eyes telling a story all at once: strength, rage, and again defiance. It is here that the video and the song end abruptly, leaving us wondering what will happen next.

The song that accompanies the video is called “Human”. The woman who sings it and performs in the video is Sevdaliza, an Iranian-born, Netherlands-based electronic artist who, while being somewhat new to the music scene, has blown up with her hypnotic sound. She works with producer Mucky and with 2 EPS out, will finally be releasing her album sometime this year.

With such a unique concept, I was struck by the fantasy-horror aspect right off the bat. While she has not claimed any allegiance to horror to my knowledge, she is an unlikely woman in horror with this tension building 3-minute clip. Her mythical character is very close to the Deer Woman, a Native American spirit who can be vengeful to men bearing ill intent to women. Her seductive dance is the last thing a corrupt man will see before she kills him.

This vision also struck me as an extremely important video for many reasons. First, I think some may find the video objectifies with this basically nude, fantastical woman dancing for an audience of men. I would argue that this is actually the opposite. She is strong, she is defiant and she is celebrating her body. I also embrace the implied horror that unfolds. To me, she is in league with the waiter as they exchange knowing looks at the very end. Perhaps she has lured them because of their wrong-doings and seeks to dole out her vengeance, much like the Deer Woman.  Perhaps they have elected to die by her hand, a penance for their evil past.

She includes a quote to accompany the video, “The basic human need to be watched was once satisfied by God.” It’s from a video game, Deus Ex based on a dystopian world made up of secret societies and artificial intelligence.  It’s a quote from Morpheus, a self-aware A.I. character, and goes on to end with, “Now, the same functionality can be replicated with data-mining algorithms.” Morpheus is apparently referring to the vanities of humans, and our need to dominate and control everything we touch.  Named after the Greek god of dreams who would bring messages to mortals from the gods, you can only speculate what Sevdaliza meant with this quote.  Is this dancer in a future world, created for the whims of these seemingly moneyed men for their male gaze and now she has a mind of her own? The theories are dizzying in their numbers, so one can only speculate.  At any rate, she looks like she is about to do some major damage to this gallery of patriarchy, but it is left up to our imaginations the ominous horror that awaits them.

The video was directed by Emmanuel Adjei, who works with Sevdaliza often. His beautiful vision is tinted with sepia tones and the visual effects are seamless-the stuff of feature films.  I would love to see what this dancer has planned, but the same time, I enjoy wanting more without a payoff. This is the crux of the clip. Everyone, from the waiter to the dancer, is waiting in intense anticipation for something, and it seems we will never know what. The desire that comes from the men, also comes from her. The difference is she isn’t afraid to show hers, embracing the animal half of herself.

The song itself is could be called an anthem for those suffering from the effect of current events. The words to the song are simple and effective:

I am flesh, bones

I am skin, soul

I am human

Nothing more than human

 

One could take the song as a plea for understanding or a rallying cry for the oppressed as they break through the chains of judgement.

The next stanza is intriguing:

It’s passing me by

Been in and out

And in front of my judgmental eyes

My precious disguise

Business so cold

Can’t cope with my own

How to not fail

In my interpretation, it appears she has become weary of hiding her true nature; tired of being seen as different or a thing and now seeking retaliation. It’s extremely telling of what could happen (and already is with all the protests and upheavals) if things continue to escalate within the U.S. political sphere. Sevdaliza, however, won’t reveal the meaning of her art, leaving it up to the viewer and listener to find their own truth.

Being Iranian, Sevdaliza has announced that she will not be travelling to the United States due to the political climate, and rightfully so. The travel ban will go down in history as yet another attempt for supremacy, and with it the call for a show of real humanity. Trump has shown his true colours, and it is evident minute by minute that he brings true terror.

With all the real world horror going on, this song comes at the right time and it couldn’t be more perfectly represented. What do you think? Does it objectify, divide, or show a woman’s strength despite her environment? Is she victim or victor? Was she a creation that has now gone rogue? You decide, because apparently there is no wrong answer in her eyes.

 

The video is up for an Edison Music Award (a Dutch music award) and you can find her at the following links:

http://www.sevdaliza.com/

https://www.facebook.com/sevdalizamusic

https://twitter.com/sevdaliza

http://emmanueladjei.com/

While researching mythologies from other cultures, I couldn’t find any other comparative deities or spirits from the Middle East aside from ancient Greek ones such as Pan and satyrs and the Native American Deer Woman.  Her legend is documented here;

And read my review of AKOÓ! that played at the ImagiNATIVE Film Festival 2016 for Cinema Axis. It features a similar mythical figure called the Caribou Woman that kills men who put women in danger here.

 

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