Displeasing, unwatchable, ugly, basically it's quite fun
Kuso is one of the most displeasing and unwatchable films of recent times and this was precisely its point. It is directed and scored by rapper Flying Lotus (plus some aptly used Aphex Twin and Akira Yamaoka), features David Firth of 'Salad Fingers' fame as well as some deranged animation of said Flash artist (Firth and FlyLo have worked together in the past and not just when they appeared on the same radio station in GTA V) and also, Hannibal Buress, George Clinton and (unsurprisingly) Tim Heidecker are in it. Already there's a lot to unpack but we're just getting started.
The film is a series of sketches which Simon Abrams of rogerebert.com describes as "a variety show from another planet". Alas, he also calls it "too proudly low-brow to be considered art gallery material" and there may be something to it. I am usually a connoisseur of anti-art and the grotesque, but a very unique talent is required to make something wonderful out of something intentionally revolting and/or bad. Had Kuso been less aggressive towards the audience and more concerned with exploring its own unspeakable universe, I'm convinced I would have liked it even more. Yes, I said "even more".
The segments we see are only connected insofar as they all feature the malformed American humans who have survived an apocalyptic disaster. Even as I knew this detail before seeing it, I still couldn't make much sense of the things I was seeing. They also don't happen one at a time, like in an anthology, but are rather spliced together with the occasional break for in-universe TV clips, surreal cartoons (many of these bits are where Firth comes in, and are usually the funnier parts of the film) and equally strange news reports on the disaster. There is also some confusion as to what's taking place within the film's "real" world and which bits are a story-within-a-story. One of the segments appears as a video game in another one, for example.
We meet all sorts of fascinating beings, most of whom look like they should just be put out of their misery. There is a black couple performing scarcely arousing sexual acts on one another, a mentally broken Asian woman who loses her "baby" behind fallen rubble as the voice of God (Firth again, I think) guides her through horrific portals and strange shapes, there is the small man with bowel issues who attends a private school in the woods where he also discovers a distinctly anus-looking creature (I dare not reveal how these two bond), there is the eccentric abortion doctor (Clinton) who will surely cure your fear of boobs, and also there's the female rapper who shares a crib with two inter-dimensional stoner lifeforms (Hannibal Buress and Donnell Rawlings). Because of course she does.
It's been noted that this film draws inspiration from all sorts of similarly grotesque and surreal works, including but not limited to Naked Lunch (consider the frequent use of insects and/or creatures that resemble human orifices), Crispin Glover's It trilogy, and the works of Cronenberg, Giger, and Jodorowsky in general (all three have a fascination with either straight-up body horror or just deformities in general). Beyond all that, there's a sense that this is approximately what a feature film adaptation of The Eric André Show would look like (particularly the scenes with Busdriver). Make what you will of that.
I ultimately enjoyed watching Kuso. I loved the music, I found most of the effects and animations as interesting as they were beautifully unpleasant, and I liked a lot of the designs. All of this stuff had potential; it's just that, perhaps, it wasn't in quite the right hands and could have benefited from not being incoherent on purpose. I don't know how much sense this statement makes but it feels like Kuso should have been a film that serves to invite and engulf those who wish to see something this disturbing, and not stick it to those who don't.
It's a shame, since my favorite films are normally those that do things no other films dare to do, as is often the case with Kuso. But it does often play like a less funny and in some ways less horrifying Eric André Show or Steve Brule, and it does go too over-the-top for its own good (certain bits are effectively scary until yet another cartoon sound effect is played, which works as a jarring tonal inconsistency as opposed to an amusing defiance of conventions). Let me put it this way: just because no-one else has filmed a scene where a man rubs his semen in the mutated face of his lover before kissing her in an extreme close-up or a scene where FlyLo hallucinates his way through a breast-dimension, doesn't mean someone had to.
FlyLo boasts that "only 20 people" walked out during its initial screening at Sundance in January. At the time of this writing, it is available on Shudder and on home video discs. Do what you must.
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