Saturday, March 21, 2009

Shintaro Kago short films

There are few things in this world stranger than the work of Japanese manga artist and filmmaker Shintaro Kago, whose bizarre contributions to both comics and extreme low-budget videos encompass Cronenberg-esque gross-out horror, pranky scatological humor, outlandish porn and dizzying formal experimentation. His 16-page comic Abstraction (which can be read in its entirety here) is one of the most formally ambitious works in the medium, a psychosexual mindfuck that seems to be desperately trying to break free of the two-dimensional constraints of the page. Unfortunately, none of Kago's willfully over-the-top comics work is available in official English translations, which has relegated most of his stories to being passed around the Internet in the form of fan-translated scans. Among the admittedly small number of admirers of avant-garde manga, however, his work has become legendary, an utterly unique fusion of comics' most advanced and original formal inventions with some of the most defiantly low-brow material imaginable.

Of late, Kago has also taken to posting his even less-known video work to his YouTube channel. In these jokey short films, many of them crudely animated, Kago's sick sense of humor reaches its full heights of absurdity. There's a playful surrealist sensibility to Kago's work, as well as a tendency to revel in the ridiculous, the crude and the disturbing. His work straddles a weird boundary between avant-garde experimentation and low-brow fart jokes — the punchline of one of these films is literally an oozing torrent of shit — although, admittedly, his videos seem to lean a bit more heavily towards the fart jokes than his comics. But hey, who doesn't appreciate a good fart joke once in a while?

Above, I've posted embedded links for two of my favorite Kago videos, two of the ones that made me laugh out loud with that mixture of shock, disgust and hilarity that often characterizes my reaction to his work. Attack of the Anteater's Tongue is exactly what its name implies: still images of an anteater are animated so that a wiggly pink tongue darts out towards the ground. Soon, the pink tongue is everywhere. It pokes up through the pants of a smiling Japanese politician, lounging around with George W. Bush. It sticks out of the tip of Dirty Harry's gun and then from the barrels of the cannons on a row of tanks — a flower in the barrel of a gun isn't nearly as effective (or funny) a surreal anti-war statement as a gun literally sticking out its tongue at the world. The film ends with an infestation of pink anteater tongues, taking over a city in a synchronized snake-like dance. Like all of Kago's best work, this video is basically an extended non sequitur, an absurd punchline that seems to be missing its joke; one senses, anyway, that only Kago would get the joke.

Terror of Golf Course is animated in more of a traditional, albeit crude, anime style, with static backgrounds and roughly moving figures. Accompanied by a soundtrack of eerie insectile hum and wheezy moans, the short starts as a typically silly gag, a golf hole neatly dodging a putter's attempts to sink a shot. The turn to horror at the end, telegraphed by the creepy soundtrack, is a cruel and nonsensical punchline. Not content to simply screw up this poor guy's golf game, this particular hole wants blood. One can imagine some kind of deadpan horror tagline for this film. On this course, it's par... or else.

Kago's weird work fits in naturally amidst the chaotic silliness of YouTube, where ridiculous amateur videos proliferate, some of them genuinely funny, many more puzzling or embarrassing or annoying. It's true that very little YouTube content has ever lived up to the tremendous promise of freely distributed online expression, but some of the stranger viral videos have seemed to illuminate unique sensibilities crafting weird little fragments of pop culture. Kago's odd short videos fit comfortably in this niche. Besides the two I posted above, there's also a wonderfully surreal mermaid sketch, a grisly new Olympic sport, and a frankly stupid cell phone joke. Check out YouTube for all the fun. (And don't forget to give Kago's comics a look, too. The great manga blog Same Hat! Same Hat! has scans of many of Kago's best stories, including The Memories of Others, Multiplication and Blow-Up. All NSFW, by the way.)


Carson Lund said...

Thanks for posting this...The Terror of the Golf Course is quite funny thanks to that abrasive soundtrack.

Ed Howard said...

Agreed, Carson, some of these are really funny. I prefer Kago's more formally ambitious comics, but his videos are really silly fun.