Weird, yet strangely appealing
by Nav Qateel
I’ve often heard the name of prolific filmmaker Hisayasu Sato being brought up in conversation when Asian cinema, or more specifically, J-horror is being discussed. But Sato’s extreme erotic violence has never really appealed to me, even though I can and do enjoy a certain amount violence, just not when it’s sexual in nature. I was given the chance to watch Hana-Dama: The Origins — an apparently tame film by Sato standards — and seized the opportunity.
Hana-Dama tells the story of Mizuki, a girl who is relentlessly bullied at school by Aya Tachibana and her ever-present entourage. Mizuki is relatively new to the school, having been expelled from her last, thanks to an incident involving Mizuki and her teacher. Unfortunately, rumors spread very quickly and after finding out what happened to Mizuki, Aya is determined to make the new girl as miserable as possible.
Rina Sakuragi plays the bullied, sullen Mizuki and does a respectable enough job of portraying this difficult character. This is only Sakuragi’s third ever movie appearance and her first major role, yet the young actress really committed herself to the part like someone with far more experience. Mizuki was expelled from her last school after having sex with a teacher then aborting the pregnancy. We never learn what happened to the unethical teacher, but the blame appears to have been solely placed at the feet of Mizuki but not the sexual predator who was supposed to be teaching the girl.
Leading the constant barrage of insults and the occasional act of violence is Aya, who is played by the beautiful Eriko Nakamura. The young actress gave a memorable performance in the same-sex love story Kakera: A Piece of Our Life — a sort of Japanese Blue Is the Warmest Color — back in 2009. Sadly, Nakamura didn’t get a chance to do more than play the stereotypical school bully. But she at least looked good while doing so.
Another outcast who takes to following Mizuki around is Kirie, played by first-timer Maika Shimamura. Kirie lacks confidence and uses a small stuffed rabbit to communicate with people, and as such, is also a target for the bullies. Together with sex-mad Shibanai (Syun Asada) making up the trio of school-friends, Mizuki and Kirie begin to keep each other company and offer one another moral support.
When the film opens Mizuki is in a locker at the back of the class. She’s been stuck in there so long she ends up peeing herself, to the delight of Aya. As well as the daily verbal abuse she has to suffer, at one point Mizuki is held while Aya vaginaly assults her with the wrong end of a packing knife. In fact, most of what takes place in Hana-Dama is sexually motivated. For example, when Shibanai is caught stealing a girl’s school uniform, two male gym teachers make him strip and put it on, all the while ordering him to pose so they can admire his body. These same teachers go on to assault and rape their students, with Mizuki’s own teacher not much better. She stands by while Mizuki is spat on, locked up and tormented, and when Mizuki’s mother turns up at the school to complain, the teacher starts blaming her for not raising her daughter properly!
Kirie is guilty by association and after more bullying and being raped, the girl jumps off the school roof in a failed suicide attempt. With their friend seriously injured in hospital, Shibanai and Mizuki have finally had enough, and while Shibanai’s revenge is more traditional, Mizuki finds she now has a large flower sitting on top of her head, allowing her to exact a different type of revenge. We were given glimpses throughout the movie of the flower slowly bursting out of her brain, and now it’s out, giving her some sort of power.
Written by the misanthropic Shinji Imaoka (writer of screenplays such as Bottled Vulva: Kindergarten Teacher Kyoko) and based on a Sato story, Hana-Dama: The Origins contains some serious weirdness that has to be seen to be believed. Mizuki’s parents had some real crazy scenes together, but the one involving paper cups on string was, without-a-doubt, the strangest I’ve seen a long time. Witnessing an older married couple using children’s homemade walkie-talkie paper cups on a string, to talk dirty to one another, while the husband was masterbating, had me wondering just how this was even dreamt up in the first place. (See attached trailer)
There was also the way the teachers at this terrible school behaved. It’s no wonder the school kids were acting the way they did, and, of course, it effected their home life, too. For example, we witness Mizuki deliberately harming herself with the glowing end of a cigarette, but the parts of her body being burnt really made my eyes water. As well as the brutality contained in the film, Sato had this way of prolonging the scenes, that made for uncomfortable viewing, which, of course, was the whole point of the exercise. I’m not so sure I’ll be rushing to see Sato’s next movie, especially if this was a tamer example.
Sato clearly has an anti-bullying message in this weird commentary of his, and it’s not until the final classroom orgy scene that this message is effectively delivered. The classroom deteriorates into an orgy of sex and violence when a young, upset schoolgirl approaches the camera and asks, “Why are there bullies at school? Why am I unimportant in this world?” Why, indeed?