2 out of 5
Directed by: Steve (Flying Lotus)
I will never rewatch Kuso. Even for appreciators of outsider, shock-art – Tim and Eric being a common checkpoint, of whom Tim Heidecker non-coincidentally appears in Kuso – the movie is a stretch; an endurance experience. From the opening “segment” of pustule and bodily-fluid covered people, you understand the general tone, and when the next “segment” has the same fetishes, well, strap in for 90 minutes of that, with “segment” in quotes because, while the film is approximately intercut between four different scenarios, it’s one long stretch of nonsequitor gross outs and ramblings. The hints start even earlier than that, as the literal first shot of the movie is a closeup of the ‘U’ in the word Kuso – which non-surprisingly roughly translates from Japanese as ‘crap’ or ‘shit’ – filled with stop-motioned meal-worms. Why the ‘U?’ Why meal-worms? And while there are contextual threads that are followable within the movie’s stories, there are uncountable questions of that nature – Why this? Why that? – that suggest this is more of a visual indulgence than anything grander than that. The lingering mixed-media animated interstitials – scored by Flying Lotus (or maybe Aphex Twin or Akira Yamaoka, also credited with music) – which might as well be surreal music videos, very much align with that. The film is wrapped by the narrative excuse of some kind of apocalyptic earthquake unleashing the opportunity for all of this nonsense, but that also hardly matters. Earthquakes apparently cause buboes, and an obsession with pooping and smearing poop on things.
But: there is effort here. I was checking the clock every ten minutes to determine how much more of this I would be sitting through, but I can’t deny – as also mentioned in the Ebert review of this flick – that there is purposefulness in the presentation. The camerawork isn’t either indie handheld or ‘set up one angle and shoot,’ but is actually pretty deft with its pans and focus and choices of angles. And more overwhelmingly, while Kuso may co-opt low budgetry through its limited effects and use of stock sound effects, and Lotus (and co-writer David Firth) love the Tim and Eric playbook of off-kilter digital manipulation of faces and 80s-era infomercial aesthetics, the flick is committed to its shit-encrusted world. The production design is, ceiling to floor, cluttered with the grimy and gross. Lighting is sickly; hair is astray. Madness is apparent everywhere, and we’re not limited to “easier” sets like confined office spaces and bedrooms, but we also venture out to a swamp – where the bog-monster likes to eat poop – and the costuming extends to two impressively weird fur monsters, which look pretty awesome, honestly, even if they seem to have a preference for watching genital mutilation porn and picking on their human roommate. Since we do end up cycling through the segments, you’ll see what there is to see by the midway point or so, but at no point did I feel like Kuso was visually flat.
I just wasn’t engaged one bit in what I was seeing, and will never, ever watch it again.