Red Post on Escher Street (2020)

Introduction

While many people would call Sion Sono (Love and Peace (2015), Tokyo Vampire Hotel (2017), Forest Of Love (2019)) one of the most subversive contemporary directors due to his indulgence in violence, the true subversive aspect of his oeuvre is his exploration of the most fundamental and most mysterious elements of human subjectivity: desire and enjoyment. With Red Post on Escher Street, Sion Sono adds another chapter to his elaboration of that crazy but beautiful element called desire.

Review

One day, producer Mutou is forced by his boss to make a light, frothy movie with director Kobayashi (Tatsuhiro Yamaoka) – a director not known for his lightness. His boss insists because with Kobayashi on board the film will be screened at international film-festivals.

Kobayashi, who wants to re-find his passion, accepts Mutou’s project on the condition that he can change the script somewhat and cast amateurs. Not long thereafter, with the script yet unfinished, Joe, Taya and Kee starts distributing casting-call flyers for Mask. When Mutou’s boss hears about Kobayashi’s plan to only cast amateurs, he demands that Mutou ensures that two famous actresses, like Ririka Sena or Hirona Matsumoto, are cast.

Red Post on Escher Street (2020) by Sion Sono.

While at the surface Red Post on Escher Street is a narrative about filmmaking – writing scripts, casting actors, directing, and guiding extras on the scene – Sion Sono’s film is, at a deeper level, a kaleidoscopic exploration of (the vitality of) human desire and the social structures that support as well undermines the desiring subject.

It is, in fact, by exploring the many people who want to audition that Sion Sono succeeds in delivering a beautiful examination of human desire as such (Narra-note 1). The members of the Kobayashi True Love Club (Ranko, Asaka, Kaede, Momoka, and Satsuki), for instance, only want to audition for his newest film because they are obsessed with him and want to get closer to their revered amalgatic object-goal-of-desire. This side-narrative obviously touches upon the possibility for a (sexual) desire to become obsessional but also reveals that a shared desire can be a fundament for a ‘community’. The latter aspect – the socializing potential of desire – is also vaguely touched upon in the side-narrative of the amateur drama troupe (Members: Natsume Ogawa, Kurumi, Azuki, Hinako, and Fukumi).

Red Post on Escher Street (2020) by Sion Sono.

That desire can also be an element that creates interpersonal struggle is lightheartedly underlined by Eiko and Ami’s side-narrative. In this side-narrative, Sion Sono reveals the selfish aspect of desire as such and shows how desire, besides establishing social bonds, can only endanger the social bonds one has already established. This dimension of desire – sexual desire in this case – is also touched upon in the exploration of the tension that exists between Natsume and Kurumi – a tension caused by a third element, Natsume’s ex Joe who currently has a thing for Kurumi (Narra-note 2).

The narrative of Kiroko, the young widow, illustrates how one’s desire is in a way always a borrowed desire, borrowed from the Other. Kiroko only applies for the audition because she has assumed the desire of her late husband as her own. Beyond giving her life a renewed purpose and a sense of direction, the assumption of her deceased husband’s desire as her own is also an attempt to keep him symbolically ‘alive’ and the flame of love for him burning.

Red Post on Escher Street (2020) by Sion Sono.

Through the struggle of writer/director Kobayashi, we are given a fine exploration of what happens when desire fails, when desire is unable to maintain its state of desiring. Kobayashi’s writer’s block is caused, as implied in the narrative, by a personal loss. To overcome this creative drought, he needs to find a way to revitalize his desire and passion. In any case, Koyabashi’s trajectory shows the spectator not only the fact that a passion for something is, in many cases, driven by an erotic desire for someone – an act of sublimation, but that the struggle to revitalize one’s desire always take place in a mediation with the Other, the Other as the ghostly appearance of our own unconscious desire.    

Luckily for Kobayashi, Katako (Morgan Maara), a close collaborator of him, proposes to finish this terrible script for him and decide who to cast in his film – this side-narrative can be read a subtle celebration of female empowerment. By proposing this, she ensures that he does not succumb to his inner subjective struggle.

Red Post on Escher Street (2020) by Sion Sono.

The darker and more destructive dimensions of human desire is explored in the visually ravishing side-narrative of Yasuko Yabuki. We meet Yasuko Yabuki just after she has been confronted with the suicide/murder of her father. Because of his death, she goes slightly mad or, in more precise words, she becomes able to undo the chackles of her mental inhibition. Via Yasuko Yabuki’s trajectory, Sion Sono confronts the spectator with the unsettling realization of a certain transgressive oedipal desire – a desire upon which, since time immemorial, rests a taboo.

The side-narrative of Kanna Tsunoda reveals in a rather touching way the spectator with the difficulty for the subject to chase his own desire – the fact that the other/Other can also be a hindering element for the subject and his desire. While Kanna Tsunoda has had the desire to become an actress for a long time, she has not been able to chase her desire due to the presence of her ill mother. But her ill mother is not only an obstacle in the real, but also a mental obstacle to her desire. It is thus not surprising that when she is finally musters up the courage to chase her desire, this act feels like betraying her mother. To choose the path of her desire forces Kanna to accept the problematic process of working-through her guilt.

Red Post on Escher Street (2020) by Sion Sono.

And that to be able to follow one’s desire one often needs to overcome a certain anxiety is illustrated by Machiko’s failed trajectory. While Machiko prepares all the documents, her anxiety renders her unable to post the letter. In other words, she is unable to overcome her anxiety and chase her desire.  

Throughout Sion Sono’s exploration of the diverse sides of desire, he eventually unearths, by framing the process of filmmaking, how hierarchal power structures, hierarchical systems, can destroy/murder the vitality of the subject’s desire. Let us say that Sono reveals how other matters, like financial gain and so on, rein in a world that should, first and foremost, be driven by a creative desire, a desire that feeds from and sublimates the subject’s confrontation with sexuality in a broad sense. In this sense, we should read this narrative as a clear critique of the current state of Japanese cinema. But, as the finale of Red Post on Escher Street clearly reveals, Sion Sono does not contend itself with underlining the antithetical relation of society and subjective desire, but urges, in a rebellious way, contemporary subjects to not only fight for their own desire but live their life using the very vitality that drives desiring as such.

Red Post on Escher Street (2020) by Sion Sono.

The composition of Red Post on Escher Street consists out of a concatenation of subtle shaky static moments and dynamic moments (Cine-note 1). The subtle shakiness that marks the entire framing of the narrative gives the composition a visually pleasing naturalism. But it is not the subtle shakiness that makes the composition so enjoyable. What makes the composition of Red Post on Escher Street so pleasing are the fleeting moments of poetry – poetry of the visual and, often at the same time, poetry of the word – that Sion Sono so expertly creates and stuffs the unfolding of his narrative with. The poetry in Red Post on Escher Street is, like all the visual and vocal poetry of Sion Sono, is a poetry that celebrates the vitality of desire.

The poetry in Red Post on Escher Street is also related to the narrative’s structure. One could say that the comical poetry of repetition dictates the rhythm of the narrative. The narrative repeats small narrative moments (e.g. the confrontation of those who aim to audition with the roadworks) as well as partial narrative structures (i.e. the repetition of showing what happens at the audition as such and what transpired before posting the application). The use of classical music, for that matter, either strengthens the visual and signifier-based poetry or supports the rhythm of the narrative.

Red Post on Escher Street (2020) by Sion Sono.

Red Post on Escher Street is a powerful formal experiment by Sion Sono. While some might argue that Sono’s latest lacks narrative density, those spectators do not realize that Sion Sono explores his theme, the vitality of desire, in a kaleidoscopic manner. With his characteristic visual and vocal poetry, Sion Sono does not only offer an eloquent celebration of the beauty of the crazy little thing called desire, but also delivers a truly powerful encouragement for the contemporary subject to unshackle himself from the societal or psychological imposed restrictions and fight for his/her inherently transgressive desire.           

{There is no trailer available yet.]

Notes

Narra-note 1: The only side-narrative that does not touch upon desire in a clear way is the side-narrative of the ‘master’ extra and his two followers who meet two first-time extras on the set. This side-narrative offers, in contrast, a lighthearted celebration of extras as such. Like the master-extra teaches, extras are like the onions on a hamburger, “without them something is missing”. They melt into the scene, transforming into scenic elements, to breathe life into the fictional spaces framing the performances of the main actors and actresses.

Narra-note 2: Later in the narrative, in the side-narrative of the amateur drama troupe, Sion Sono, in a rather fleeting but poetic way, touches upon the unconscious repetition that often marks sexual desire (i.e. the choice of one’s romantic partner).

Cine-note 1: In this composition, dynamic moments are either more pronounced instances of natural camera shakiness, subtle tracking movement, or temperate spatial camera movement.

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