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Review: Red Post on Escher Street

For his latest mind-bending cinematic acid trip, Sion Sono couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate title than Red Post on Escher Street. The movie’s narrative structure resembles an M.C. Escher painting: rather than following a traditional, linear path, it twists and contorts itself into surreal, geometrically impossible shapes. It lacks a genre, a consistent tone, and even a clear protagonist; the camera observes the action like a disembodied spirit, floating freely and untethered as it follows a particular character through a long, lingering, uninterrupted tracking shot… before abruptly shifting focus to a seemingly random passerby (reminiscent of the comedic tangents in Tampopo and True Stories). Several plot threads intersect, interweave, and otherwise overlap—but are frequently inconsistent or outright contradictory when repeated from a different point-of-view.

At the center of this hypnotic, hallucinatory spiral stand the eponymous red mailbox and its accompanying street sign. These geographical anomalies wander from location to location: sometimes, they appear out in front of a small corner store; on other occasions, they materialize in the middle of a grassy field or alongside a babbling stream. In Sono’s earlier J-horror work, they might have presaged sinister supernatural forces; here, though, their unacknowledged presence is purely symbolic. Of what, exactly, I’m not entirely sure—and honestly, that’s probably by design. Roger Ebert often asserted that symbols aren’t necessarily required to “mean” anything concrete, and bold stylistic experiments like this lend considerable weight to that argument.

I’ve avoided discussing Red Post on Escher Street’s story in any detail so far because it is, quite frankly, indescribable. Japan Society’s streaming service provides the following synopsis:

A funny, chaotic and consistently interesting showcase of Sion Sono’s versatile talents, Red Post on Escher Street is a return-to-roots film for the director that develops, in typical Sono fashion, into a boldly subversive affair—a brazenly tongue-in-cheek portrait of the Japanese film industry that harkens to Sono’s own career as one of the most distinctive voices in world cinema.

To be fair, that summary is accurate… more or less; Sono does, in fact, explore various facets of the Japanese film industry, from the lowly extras struggling to maximize their meager screen time all the way up to the sleazy producers conspiring to force a young director’s artistic vision into a safe, predictable, commercially viable box. It is, however, also rather reductive; Red Post on Escher Street’s superficial “satirical” elements merely serve as a framework for a substantially more profound and compelling meditation on Sono’s favorite themes: identity, individuality, and the erosion thereof by myriad societal pressures. It’s impossible to adequately articulate my emotional response to such an unconventional, imaginative, chaotic roller coaster ride in a few measly paragraphs; its anarchic pleasures must be experienced firsthand.

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