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Red Post on Escher Street

By Japanese director Sion Sono’s standards, this film-about-film is restrained. It’s also egalitarian, moving – and one of the best of 2020.

Red post on escher street screenshot

Sion Sono has made a lot of films. Since his breakout cult hit Suicide Club in 2001, he’s directed 29 feature films, alongside plenty of shorts and TV series. It’s inevitable that quite a few of his films are about filmmaking itself, because you get the impression he doesn’t do much else.

In recent years, the yakuza massacre Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, the serial killer romance The Forest of Love and the meta-softcore Antiporno have all dealt with the topic of film production in various hyperactive ways. To those with a taste for chaos, overacting, scores that sound ripped from Classic FM and the history of exploitation cinema, they are all treasures. But Red Post on Escher Street, Sono’s latest film-about-film, is better, possibly his best since his 2008 magnum opus, Love Exposure.

That film is a four-hour epic of sex, violence, cults, guilt, sin, manipulation and love. By contrast, Red Post on Escher Street is a streamlined 150 minutes, with only one grisly death, a mostly-harmless white-clad cult and a fairly well-behaved ghost. By Sono’s standards this is restrained.

The main action follows a number of aspiring actors as they audition for a part in the latest film of a young hotshot director. Through short, intimate segments, the film shows us those actors’ motivations, dreams and desires, their experience of the audition and its after-effects. Often these lives are extreme and unusual, as in the case of the cult, which is centred around the director himself. Most of the characters are themselves played by first-time actors, who universally do an admirable job with these difficult, hyper-sincere, often very unnatural roles.

Where Red Post on Escher Street becomes a revelation is in its structure. Threads of story are suddenly picked up and just as suddenly dropped, or found unpredictably intertwining. An extra in one sequence will turn out to be the main focus of the next. Without a cut the camera will wander from its apparent protagonist to some side character, zooming into the details of their life. The same audition is shown multiple times from the viewpoints of multiple hopefuls.

It can be disorienting, but it’s also a profoundly democratic method of storytelling, refusing to force characters into the hierarchy of leads, extras and bit players. Everyone has their story, and as the film progresses these stories become increasingly disruptive of the production of the film-within-the-film.

Sono is obsessed with the harms of controlling, authoritarian relationships. Here he seems to be seeking to undermine the authority of the director himself. Whether he succeeds, the result is one of the best films of 2020. An open, moving, egalitarian masterpiece.

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