When it comes to horror anime, they seem to be some of the more mature anime out there. As much flak horror gets in general for just being a disgusting and barbaric genre, seen as only catering to violent psychopaths, horror anime, at least the ones that I have seen, seem to handle their horror maturely. From the psychological break-down of our protagonist in Parasyte, to the symbolism and philosophy of Monster. Even Highschool of the Dead can come up with some relatable characters... You know, when they aren't having jiggle physics. And with Japan treating their audience more maturely, it's safe to say that horror seems to not be going anywhere in anime... That wasn't always the case, however. There was a time, preferably back in the 90's, where there was a thing as too much... Yes, back when anime could get away with anything, there was an anime that pushed the boundaries little too far. So far in fact, that the film was lost for a good number of years. And that film was the little horror anime film, Midori: Shojo Tsubaki.
Alright, so I need to refrain from putting certain scenes from this movie on this article, since the movie has been listed as, possibly, the first to create the eroguro genre. Now, if you don't know what eroguro is... Good. To put it in the most PG-13 way I can, it is a combination between both sexual pleasures... and violence. It is very taboo... and pretty fucked up. Though, as an eroguro anime... To be honest, the movie lacks a lot of it. Yes, there's sex, and yes, there is a lot of violence, but they seem to keep the two separated. Aside from a few sex scenes between those with disabilities, I wouldn't really consider it that bad as the eroguro made it out to be. Because, trust me, there's way worse than that. So, Mirdo: Shojo Tsubaki follows the story of a young girl named Midori. As she is selling flowers to get by, she meets a man who tells her to meet him if she ever needs help. When Midori's mother dies, she goes to find the man, only to discover that he tricked her into joining his traveling freak show, with the members consisting of a large man who swallows swords, a woman who eats living animals, an armless man with bandages who does tasks with his feet, a boy who takes the appearance of a girl, a limbless man, and a man with a twisted body. From then on, the troupe abuses her, physically, sexually, and psychologically, and from that point on, the film just tries to see what kind of things we can do to make the protagonist suffer.
Before watching this movie, I heard a lot of people say how this film is awful, and is nothing more than torture porn, just showing the abuse of the protagonist. And I won't lie, the first act of this movie is pretty bad. First off, the pacing. This film wastes no time in ruining Midori's life. She sells flowers, mother dies, goes to the circus, and the rest just continues from there. Again, this is a lost film, so maybe some scenes were just lost, so I can't really put the blame on that. What I can put the blame on, however, is just the awful things Midori goes through for really no reason. Seeing her mother getting eaten by rats, and seeing the circus troupe having sex all over the place, oh and a scene where small puppies get smashed into the pavement and stepped on. I feel like there are points in the film where the imagery is trying so hard to scare the audience, it just comes off as desperate. There is some imagery that works, thankfully, like seeing the twisted appearance of one of the circus members. Just seeing that is disturbing on it's own. But as I said before, Midori's life is just utter shit and there really doesn't need to be any reason for it. The circus troupe constantly abuses her for such minor things, you'd think it was out of spite. Oh, and the puppy scene I mentioned before? Yeah, turns out that Midori was caring for those puppies in secret. And not only did one of the circus members kill those puppies for no reason, but they cooked it and made her eat it, and there was no reason other than to just make her feel awful. So yeah, the first act isn't exactly making this film any better. All it is is showing just how much the creators can ruin Midori's life. And the worst part about it is... I don't feel anything about it.
Now, just hear me out on this. Is watching Midori's life get turly and utterly destroyed fun to watch? God no. I feel sorry for her. But that's the problem. I sympathies with her. But I've learned that sympathy and likability are two separate things. It's easy to sympathize with a character. It's a whole other thing to like them. I'm not saying she's awful, but I am saying that it's hard to like a character I know nothing about. And I am also not saying the film shouldn't add those awful scenes. Hell, go for it. But if they want to go for it, they should show Midori with some character. Throughout the film, we've mostly seen her just scream and cry. And while she has every reason to scream and cry, that's about it with her character throughout the first act. Why not establish what she's like. She's a young girl, why not show her what she was like before this. Show us what she liked to do before, what her interests were. Have her slowly lose touch with her younger self as the film goes on. Don't just put her in the movie and expect us to feel every single punch when she is abused. Again, considering that this is a lost film, maybe those scenes were lost, but it still pains me to know that Midori is a pretty bland protagonist. Not bad (Believe me, there are way worse horror story protagonists out there), but as long as you don't make her an interesting character, I can't help but shrug off every abuse scene she's in. And for a film where the character goes through constant abuse, that's pretty bad.
Now, as we've established already, the first act is pretty bad. It's pacing is too fast, and the characterization is pretty awful, and it's trying way too hard to gross out or scare the audience. Thankfully, the second act is where the movie picks up and starts to get better. At this point in the film, we are introduced to the Dwarf, a character who is the only one who shows care for Midori. He is always treating her well, and is also bringing in more money for the freak show. So naturally, everyone loves him. His act, which he learned from a magician in America, is, due to his small size, he is able to fit inside bottles. However, some of the members begin to grow jealous of him. His care towards Midori causes him to control the others and put them in fear, and even leads to him killing one of the members for his abuse towards Midori. He truly makes this film more interesting. He starts a romantic relationship with Midori, and will do whatever he can to protect her, even killing her. Midori even becomes scared with him at one point, but he does what he can to assure her trust. He isn't willing to hurt her and will do anything to keep her safe, and we even see her finally opening up and smiling. This truly is a good scene. But of course, this is Corner of Horror, not Corner of Happy-Fun Times. You came here to be traumatized, not have a good time. And don't worry, this act isn't without it's horror. When the audience begins to treat the Dwarf disrespectfully for being in a freak show, he shows the other magic he learned: Black magic from China. And this is where the art shines. The art in Shojo Tsubaki is pretty neat. It's got a unique style about it that I really enjoy. While the animation itself isn't the best (I mean, seriously, half the time, they are just still images with voices over it), the illustrations are disturbing, with a little charm to it. And this scene is truly haunting. Here, the Dwarf begins to turn the audience into disfigured forms, so they can see what it's like to be freaks. Some turn inside out, others morph with each other, and just other creepy imagery that's hard to explain. I mean, he turns them back to normal afterwards, but it's still so haunting, and in a unique way. I really do like this scene, and am glad it tried something new for once.
But of course, with a film like this, I doubt you were expecting a happy ending. So, SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT! So, after that whole display, the Dwarf plans on leaving, and thus, will cause the circus to go out of business. The one in charge leaves with the money and leaves the members without a job or money. At this point, the Dwarf and Midori plan on leaving, and the circus members are... rather pleased. They send them off and give them a heartfelt goodbye. I mean, odd, considering these were the same people who mentally and physically ruined Midori for god knows how long, but that's besides the point. So after the Dwarf leaves to go and get some supplies, he is killed on his way back to Midori, and when she goes to find him, the circus members are laughing evilly. This causes Midori to attempt to murder them, and as she stands alone, the film ends with Midori doing, what else? Crying and screaming. Alright, so I'm not one hundred percent sure what the hell happened here, but I think that this is a sign of Midori finally breaking down and killing those who abused her, but now that she is truly alone in the world, she has just finally broken down. Indeed, this is a depressing ending, and I do love vague story telling a whole lot, but... I don't know. I mean... vague... In an eroguro story? Well, whatever, it's still decent here.
So, Midori was a pretty creepy film, sure. Had a pretty bad first act, but at least it got better. I don't see why everyone was so upset over it. And it wasn't as hard to watch as I thought it would be. Then again, when you see some stuff, you just get kinda used to it. So, before I end this review, allow me to discuss the films creator, Hiroshi Harada. Harada was a man who worked on this film by himself. He had no backing from any producers, because... Obviously, no one wanted a film this fucked up to be made. The film had over 5000 frames hand drawn by Harada alone and it was all funded by his own life-savings. He truly wanted this film to be made, and despite the film nearly being destroyed, it was saved thanks to it being found by a man in France named Cine Malta. So, in the end, Harada had his movie shown to the world, and while parts of it are lost, he was finally able to get his movie out and seen, and thus, Midori: Shojo Tsubaki was saved... I'll let you decide on if that is good or bad. Take care.