‘Kuso’ Is Stunning, But NOT for the Squeamish
By Lois Kennedy
Director: Steven Ellison (AKA Flying Lotus)
Cast: Iesha Coston, Oumi Zumi, Zack Fox, The Buttress (Bethany Schmitt), Tim Heidecker, Hannibal Buress, Regan Farquhar, Shane Carpenter, David Firth
The movie is difficult to summarize. Here’s what IMDB has: “Events unfold after a devastating earthquake in Los Angeles.” Events indeed. The movie is broken up into three segments. The biggest segment, “Mr. Quiggle,” is the story of couple Kenneth and Missy, who have their active love life interrupted by Missy’s secret shame. Also, Manuel is scared of breasts, so he enlists the help of Dr. Clinton (George Clinton); his treatment involves singing into Dr. Clinton’s butthole and…I won’t spoil it for you. Further also, The Buttress and her alien buddies deal with her situation of being impregnated by a crazy stalker guy.
Then there’s “Smear,” the story of Charlie, a schoolboy (or skool, as it’s spelled in his backwoods classroom) who finds a giant sentient butthole in the woods. He feeds it…I won’t spoil it for you. Finally, there’s “Sock,” the chronicles of Angel, who is looking for her baby and falls down a hole. By the way, these names are barely used; I had to find most of them by cross-referencing actor pictures with their character’s names. You’re welcome.
‘Kuso’ is notorious for being disturbing and disgusting. Supposedly when it played at Sundance there were en masse walkouts, though director Flying Lotus contends it was maybe 20 people out of 400. Star Zack Fox (he plays the butthole whisperer Manuel) chalks the walkouts up to racism on his Twitter: “white people walked out of Kuso because it wasn’t 50 years a slave.” One critic called it “The grossest movie ever made,” but I disagree. I’m sure I’ve seen grosser before (but nothing immediately comes to mind). Buttholes and shit feature quite prominently (hence the title, which is “shit” in Japanese), as do hideous sores, vomiting, and white goop. A lot of characters eat nauseating stuff.
It’s also very abstract and at times difficult to follow. But I didn’t hate it–I loved it. Once I realized for sure (the trailer had me suspecting) that I was going to be taken on a strange journey, I sat back and opened my mind. If you’ve ever seen ‘Eraserhead’ or the more recent ‘Chicago Rot’, you know the joy of watching something totally unpredictable and wholly original. I can’t lie; it was the hype around the movie that drew me to it, because I’m a masochist–the title “grossest movie ever made” sounds like a challenge to me. But I don’t get off on gross; it really took some getting used to. I can’t claim I understand what Mr. Lotus is trying to say, but I enjoyed the journey. Nauseating it is, pedestrian it is not.
There’s actually quite a bit of humor. My favorite scene is when the news is interrupted by the News Pirate, who breaks into a musical number. Afterwards, he looks around, seemingly looking for applause, then makes a disgusted face when there is none. Here it is:
It’s genius. I could watch that all freaking day. The scenes with George Clinton are hard not to laugh at. But there’s a totally WTF scene when Manuel is in the waiting room for Dr. Clinton’s clinic when a man delivers a crazy monologue, asking Manuel if he’s ever picked up a guy and hit another guy with the first guy, like a baseball bat. When he’s done, he pulls a smoke bomb from his pants and throws it. Very little smoke comes out, and Manuel says, “I can still see you.” The guy still walks away in triumph.
And then there are moments of astonishing beauty, believe it or not. Kenneth and Missy’s relationship is really sweet, even when he’s rubbing sperm all over her face. (That scene was the hardest to watch for me; my notes read “Goop on faces no! Oh why?”) Then there’s the scene when alien creatures are flooding the skies, set during a gorgeous California sunset. The animated photomontage sequences are strange but look amazing.
I feel like I have to reiterate that the movie is revolting in (most) places, because that’s all that some people will come away with. I wholeheartedly recommend it–but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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