A beautifully hideous, vomit-drenched experience. A film of pure cinematic sensation of the best and worst kind.
In Japanese Kuso means ‘shit’, a title reflecting both the film’s nonrestrictive use of almost every known bodily fluid as well as its self-awareness of the coming onslaught of spectator criticism. Perhaps best prefaced with a strong warning of psychological and, at times, physical corruption via cinematic assault, Flying Lotus’s audio to visual transition Kuso is unlike anything else you will experience by the hand of a screen. The truth though is that such warning would merely scratch the pus stained surface of Kuso and leave you still susceptible to its vomit fuelled violence. To many, it will be nothing more the ten minutes it takes to walk out, but for a select few Kuso will prove to be far better than its title suggests.
Premiering at Sundance to the echos of vocal repulsion and distant retching until finally being unleashed to the rest of its victims courtesy of limited screenings and streaming service Shudder, Kuso feels like a midnight movie for the online generation. Featuring four interspersed vignettes (‘Royal’, ‘Sock’, ‘Smear’ and ‘Mr. Quiggle’) which follow the boil ridden residents of a post-quake Los Angeles, Steven Ellison’s film tracks the twisted aftermath of its diseased chaos through stories of sexuality, abortion and sickness. ‘Royal’ is easily the film’s strongest segment; A dark exploration of the corruptive nature of libido. Whilst ‘Sock’ offers arguably the least in terms of narrative, its imagery provides plenty to (dare i say it) chew on and ‘Mr. Quiggle’ delivers both Kuso‘s grimmest moment and its funniest.
Kuso‘s greatest achievement though is in its world building and unrelenting attention to repulsive detail. A great deal of credit for this should go to both the film’s art director David Offner as well as co-writer and visionary creator of Salad Fingers David Firth. Ellison acting as a Firth prodigy, Kuso acting as an inspired live-action expansion of a Firthian universe. Less direct influences derive from 70’s exploitation through to digressive art house and Asian horror, the brushstrokes of Mike Takashi’s Gozu and Pasolini’s Salò are filtered through the comedic meta gaze of Quentin Dupieux. Steve (as he is credited) presents a world connected through consumerism and disease. Haunted by static television sets, its inhabitants appear progressively more decayed, perhaps their skin condition offering reflection of their own moral credibility. It is also possible Kuso‘s sense of otherness is a commentary on the antithesis of the American dream buried from world view by the media and void of medical access. To retract however, it is more likely than not that Kuso would humour such attempts at analysis and artistic association; Three characters watch the mutilation of a penis on television with one stating “this is art” and another replying “this? this is garbage”. Division of Kuso‘s audience reaction isn’t only guaranteed, it was scripted.
Although, a film of such repulsion and divisive intention of course comes complete with its issues. Its insanity driven approach can prove draining and its rejection of structure and general normality is alienating. Cut-scenes which splice together the four narratives using contributions of stop-motion, CGI animation and scrapbook collages provided by varying artists can seem disjointed from the overall film, distracting from Kuso‘s momentum and aggressive flow. The four vignettes are also fragmentary due to the film’s interweaving edit, cutting between them at seemingly random moments in each narrative. Nonetheless, these feel like insignificant pimples which go fairly unnoticed beneath the decaying skin and Kuso‘s infectious charm.
What needs to be remembered about Kuso is that it is more experience than film. It’s a work of violence which aims to stick its fingers down the throat of the audience and use their regurgitation as a dazzling review. To your average viewer, Kuso will be detested and met with pure disgust but some of us will gaze upon its tumorous exterior and find a certain beauty in the blisters.
Kuso (2017), directed by Flying Lotus, is distributed by Shudder. Certificate 18.