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Manga / Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show

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Midori, a little girl from a run-down family, sells paper flowers in the streets. She wishes to earn enough money, so she can join her classmates in the school picnic. Late one night, she returns home to find her ailing mother dead — what's more, rats are gnawing at her private parts. With no one to turn to, she tries the address one customer gave her — and comes to a seedy freak show run by a money-hungry Mr. Arashi. Midori is degraded, brutalized, and forced to perform fetishistic acts on stage, until a midget illusionist named Wonder Masamitsu comes along and takes Midori under his wings. Will Midori at last find true love and happiness? ... Nope, not in this kind of story.

Based on the iconic 1930s kamishibai story of the same name, Shōjo Tsubaki (少女椿), also known as Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show, is Suehiro Maruo's most famous manga. First published in 1984, it is the work that has cemented his reputation in the west. A crude but very faithful animated adaptation was released in 1992, made over the course of five years through the efforts of one single person: Hiroshi Harada. The film was a heavy subject of censorship in Japan as a result of its graphic content and explicit depictions of child molestation and animal abuse, to the point where the master reels were outright confiscated by the Japanese government. They were eventually recovered in 2013, and a new print and digital transfer was made for new screenings, with a Blu-ray release of this transfer being planned for 2020. A second film adaption of the story was released in 2016, combining live-action footage with the grotesque and surreal designs of the original manga and cartoon.

This work provides examples of:

  • '20s Bob Haircut: Midori has a bob typical of schoolgirls at the time.
  • Art Shift: Midori's fever dream is partly rendered in a rounded, simplistic style common in girl mangas. The shift is quite noticeably disturbing.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the 2016 live action film, Midori says her last name is Hanamura.
    • The snake woman is revealed to be named Benitsu, and the strong man is called Akaza.
  • Adaptational Angst Downgrade: How Masamitsu dies in the manga and anime is different to how it happens in live action. In the manga and anime, he is stabbed by a mugger. In the live action movie, he dies from exhaustion after giving all his magic power to Midori. Both deaths are painful, but at least in the latter version Masamitsu dies on his own terms.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The manga version story ends with Midori crying all alone in a void of pure white with no one to help her. While it is already depressing enough, the OVA adaptation takes it to the next level by adding an ending poetry which heavily implies that Midori commits suicide.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Justified, since the original was meant to look grotesque while the live-action film is meant for a more mainstream audience. Special mention to Masamitsu (who is played by Shunsuke Kazama) and Muchisute the Mummy Man, played by Daichi Saeki, whose attractiveness wasn't hidden by the makeup job and bandages.
  • Adaptational Backstory Change: In the live-action film, Muchisute was burned and lost his arms in a fire, whereas in the original manga he has leprosy. Assumingly, this is due to Japan's uncomfortable history with victims of leprosy.
    • Masamitsu's reasons for police being after him are changed too.
  • Adaptational Jerkass : The whole group sans Kanabun towards Midori in the OVA after the infamous puppy scene. In the original they were unaware that the dog meat they were eating was Midori's puppies and assumed she was crying because she was finally eating meat. In the OVA they weren't only aware, but also mocked her for feeding her well enough to be tasty.
  • Benevolent Boss: Mr. Arashi is this on a good day. He did let Midori have a day off when she was sick, and does pay the freaks well when they actually make money, though it does take goading from Masamitsu. Which makes him running off at the end with all the money all the more shocking. In the live-action version, Masamitsu takes the money when he isn't looking, replacing them with paper camellias.
  • Berserk Button: Masamitsu goes berserk when the audience calls him small, leading directly to the most visceral and horrifying scene of the movie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: If taken at face value, the live-action film's conclusion is the most positive outcome for Midori. Even though Masamitsu dies, and she undergoes a brief moment of despair by hallucinating the freaks laughing at her (like in the manga) and loses her memories in the process, she does immediately get her bearings back and as implied by the last shot of the film, successfully receives the dwarf's powers after she grows tired of the celebrity lifestyle she once dreamed of. All in all, Midori ends up getting everything she wants.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: The notorious chicken scene.
  • Casting Gag: Model Risa Nakamura had previously modeled for an event featuring Suehiro Maruo's artwork in early 2015, and one promotional image shows her dressed in Midori's outfit. In 2016, she is cast in the live-action film as Midori.
  • Circus Brat: Midori is accused of being one by neighborhood children in the live-action film, though she's far from it.
  • Circus of Fear: This is certainly to Midori, when the freaks start abusing her and yells at the more disfigured freaks as monsters. To the public, the circus is nothing more than a rundown freak show until they piss off Masamitsu and were hallucinated into disfigured freaks themselves with exploding body parts.
  • Darker and Edgier: The original kamishibai play is nowhere near as dark and depressing as the manga and anime. For example, this Midori is sexually abused on stage, while in the original story, she sings kitschy sentimental songs.
  • Defiled Forever: Midori herself believes this when she tells Masamitsu, "I'd marry you, but I'm not a virgin anymore." For all things considered, Masamitsu doesn't seem to mind this. This is omitted in the live-action film.
  • Downer Ending: Midori and Masamitsu leave the freak show for good. But he is later stabbed to death by some street punk when he goes looking for food. An anguished Midori searches for Masaumitsu, but when she cannot find him, she believes he has abandoned her. She then has a vision of the members of the freak show and Masamitsu laughing at her. This proves to be the last straw for her and she has a vision of herself killing them. She is then left in despair, crying all alone. The song over the end credits imply that Midori committed suicide afterwards.
  • Eye Scream: A Suehiro Maruo work would not be complete without it. Case in point, Mr. Arashi licking Kanabun's eyeball while the other freaks have an orgy in their tent.
  • Ethical Slut: Benitsu Really Gets Around, but she draws the line at involving Midori, who is 12 (14 in the live-action film).
  • Flower Motifs: The original Japanese title "Camellia Girl" comes from a Japanese kamishibai play, where a young flower seller ends up singing in a revue show to pay her father's debt.
  • Gainax Ending: The 2016 film ends with Midori asking Masamitsu to give her his powers, which he agrees, but he drops dead in front of her before this can happen. She begins to hallucinate about the freaks laughing at her and her attacking them like the source material, but the stick phases through them and memories leave her body in bubbles before she exclaims alone in a white room. Midori then uses her new powers, apparently from the midget, to end the movie.
  • Gorn: It is actually quite tame by the standard of Suehiro Maruo.
  • Gossipy Hens: A particularly cruel version in Midori's old neighborhood, who have nothing nice to say about Midori's mother, and generally not caring her child is an orphan now.
  • Happier Home Movie: One that Midori can actually enter and interact with, courtesy of Masamitsu seemingly giving her a nice dream as she's sleeping. It ends as soon as the clock chimes.
  • Hate Sink: Muchisute's sexual assault of Midori easily makes him the most loathsome character. He has no redeeming qualities except for his tragic past.
  • Hermaphrodite: The boy-girl, Kanbun, one of the members of the troupe.
  • Hope Spot: There are two: the first is when a talent scout seeks out Midori, but Masamitsu's possessive behavior and jealousy precludes her from going along after tearing the business card; the second when she and Masamitsu leave the freak show for good, only for the dwarf to be stabbed by a street punk after buying food.
  • The Ingenue: Midori fills this role, still being kind and idealistic after all the abuse she suffered because of the freaks.
  • Important Haircut: After Mr. Arashi abandons the freak show, Kanabun cuts his hair so short that Masamitsu doesn't recognize him. In the live action film, he only cuts of the ponytail, leaving the front intact.
  • Innocent Flower Girl: Midori sold paper flowers (the titular camellias) so she and her sick mother can get by. She is implied to give sexual favors in the original manga, but these hints were removed in the anime and live action films.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Benitsu is cruel to Midori, but when other members want to lay hands on Midori, she makes sure they keep their hands off. Indeed, most people in the troupe are not irredeemably evil; their hearts are merely hardened by the harsh circumstances.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Kanabun is the embodiment of this trope. He constantly bullies Midori, kills her dogs and taunts her while the troupe eats them and flashes his penis to her to shock her (she didn't know he was a boy until that point).
  • Kick the Dog: Literally: not only kicked, but stepped on and cooked.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Muchisute gets this in the live-action film, since he is the only one who raped Midori in this version, and he is killed by Masamitsu like in the manga.
  • Lighter and Softer: The 2016 movie; justified as it is meant for a more mainstream audience than the source material. Midori isn't fetishised on stage, seems to be just their chore girl and is (mostly) left alone or ignored, the puppy stomping isn't shown on camera, and Midori gets to be an actress like she wanted.
  • Little People Are Surreal: Masamitsu is a dwarf magician who actually possesses strange magical powers.
  • Living Prop: The two other freaks, the Human Pretzel and the Human Worm, seem only to serve as something scary for the readers/viewers to look at, and freaking out Midori at least several times. They have little to no characterization other than that they're severely deformed.
  • Loving Bully: Muchisute is a really dark variation. He later admits to Midori that he only harassed and violated her is because he's in love with her.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Midori and Benitsu. While Midori is timid, idealistic and her sexual experiences were forced upon her, Benitsu Really Gets Around, is often topless, and generally has a cynical bitchy attitude.
  • Master of Illusion: Masamitsu is this. He can use it for awesome tricks, or for making people pay for making him angry.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Masamitsu kills Muchisute after seeing him confess his love for Midori. Midori becomes somewhat scared of him after witnessing the murder.
  • Parental Abandonment: Midori's father has walked out of the family long before the story starts.
  • Pet the Dog: Everyone has their kinder moments in the 2016 film.
  • Public Domain Character: The story is actually just one of many variations of the stock character of "The Camellia Girl". This version happens to be the most famous one outside of Japan.
  • Rape as Drama: Midori was raped several times by Muchisute before Masamitsu showed up.
  • Rail Enthusiast: Midori becomes on after she joins the freaks (if she wasn't already), and spends whatever free time she has watching them.
  • Retro Universe: The live action film. One example, despite being set in the Showa era (1926-1989), the freaks' main mode of transportation is a modern van instead of a cart like in the original manga, among other things.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Masamitsu makes everyone hallucinate about becoming deformed, Mr. Arashi decides the freak show isn't worth it and takes the money and runs off. In the live-action film, Masamitsu catches on and replaces the money in the bag with paper camellias.
  • Sleeping Their Way to the Top: Benitsu tries this with Mr. Arashi to get more money out of him... but it doesn't work.
  • Straight Gay: Implied with Mr. Arashi when he rejects Benitsu's advances, and the only person he fooled around with was Kanabun, the boy-girl. This is heavily confirmed in the live action film.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Courtesy of Midori.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The circus freaks had no problem smacking Midori around. After Masamitsu makes them hallucinate turning her into a giant while the strongman threw her up in the air, they seemed to be cowed into submission, and never touch her again.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: It seems to end on a light note once Midori and Masamitsu leave the circus, but Masamitsu's unexpected murder and Midori believing that he had abandoned her killed any hope inside her that she will be happy again, and cries all alone in a white void.