I’m depressed. The shards of hope I nursed for the future are gone, shattered by the heavy feet of prurience and pretension. 

You see, last week I saw Kuso, Steve Ellison’s (aka music producer Flying Lotus) tsunami of shit, pus and spunk jokes. Yesterday I read a review that compared it to Pasolini’s masterpiece Salo. This weekend? Well, I’m planning to down-in-one a foaming, bubbling tankard of special, magic Kool-Aid, wrap myself in a blanky and wait for the Mothership. That’s it folks, last call for drinks, we are done as a species. 

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not Ellison’s film that’s made me consider suicide and the forced euthanasia of humanity as not only a viable option but a preferred one. It’s not that good. Or bad. Good? Bad? These terms are meaningless when reviewing a film like Kuso. You will either like this film or you won’t. My loss of faith isn’t the fault of Flying Lotus; it can be laid purely at the feet of the reviewer in one of our quality broadsheets that repeatedly likened the film to Salo, Pasolini’s angry, intense, graphic exploration of sadism, perversion and political and moral corruption in his home country of Italy under Mussolini’s Fascists, I can only assume because both feature coprophagia. However, where Salo uses its obscenity to question the pornography of power and violence in patriarchal society and our own scopophilia as an audience, Kuso is just one long shit joke. Trumpeted as the grossest film you’ll ever see by middle class hipsters who’ve obviously never sat through a Nekromantik double bill, rarely have I seen a film quite so childishly determined to shock, to offend, to disgust, so calculatedly designed to be edgy as Ellison’s grubby, grotesque portmanteau. 

And it fails spectacularly. 

It tries hard. 

It tries very hard. 

It’s practically The Little Engine That Could. If the Little Engine was powered by caca and aimed at an audience of trendy stoned faecal freaks who’ve got bored of watching Adult Swim.  

With Kuso, Ellison has thought of something he finds funny – excrement – and, like being trapped down the pub with my drunk brother-in-law, has taken his audience hostage and decided to repeat the same joke for 90 minutes until someone laughs. As well as coprophilia, Ellison’s also peppered Kuso’s loose series of scatological vignettes, vaguely set in a devastated Hell-A in the aftermath of an apocalyptic earthquake, with pegging, cannibalism, genital mutilation, physical deformity, mutant insects, emetophilia, spunk, pus, talking boils, abortion jokes, funk legend George Clinton’s arse and crude depictions of disability that verge on hate crime. But it’s obviously in the not-so-humble jobby that Ellison has found his muse, virtually turning his film into a dirty protest against…well, nothing really. Trash TV maybe? Our gross-out media culture? 24-hour rolling news? Infomercials? Who knows? 

“Hey! I’m edgy! I’m bold! I’m gross! I’m transgressive!” the film grabs you with its shit-stained fingers and screams shrilly in your face. Except it’s not. It lacks the balls to be truly transgressive, the brains to be bold, to be edgy. It doesn’t even look good, borrowing its visual aesthetic from YouTube, claymation, 8-bit video games and ‘80s studio-bound sit-coms. 

Essentially Kuso is the cinematic equivalent of that weird kid in primary school who smelt a bit funny and used to chase the girls with a turd smeared on a stick, the guy you weren’t surprised to read about in the local newspaper years later when he was fined for fingering an Alsatian in a bus shelter in front of some nursery school kids. He was funny when you were nine but, as an adult, he’s just a bit sad and, frankly, a little creepy. 

Maybe I’m just jaded. Perhaps years of working in Live Art in my other life have warped my fragile little brain. But it takes more than a couple of gallons of patently fake excrement and a cacophony of exaggerated fart sounds to shock me. I’m used to seeing artists perform who use not only their body but their body fluids – their piss, their shit, their spunk, their flesh, their blood – as a medium to create art that engages with and challenges convention, confronts issues of physicality, sexuality, gender, identity, disability, politics, pain, suffering and loss, exploring, often violently, the relationship between the audience and the artist, achieving transcendence, catharsis. 

So, it’s kinda hard to be shocked by 90 minutes of poopy jokes if you’ve ever been to a Ron Athey performance or seen the photos of Mao Sugiyama’s Testicle Banquet (where he fed his own severed penis, testicles and scrotum to guests at a dinner party) or Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0 or Chris Burden getting a mate to actually SHOOT him for the 1974 piece Shoot. Even in terms of more mainstream cinema, 2011’s nasty little horror movie The Bunny Game was banned in the UK for its depiction of the unsimulated sexual abuse and violence endured by writer/performer/artist Rodleen Getsic who was beaten, shaved and branded for the film. John Waters’ classic Pink Flamingos, where Divine wolfs down a freshly laid dog turd, still isn’t available uncut in the UK. Marian Dora’s Melancholie der Engel, quite rightly, will probably never be released in the UK. Kuso is available to stream on UK TV channel Shudder from 21st July. That’s how shocking, how depraved, how gross it is; you can watch it at home on telly. Relentless obscenity just shouldn’t be as tedious as Kuso.    

Rental Review: Kuso
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