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Hana-Dama: The Origins ("Hana-Dama")

North American Premiere
  • Japan
  • 2013
  • 106 mins
  • DCP
  • Japanese
  • English (subtitles)
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Shamed and expelled from her previous school after having an abortion, transfer student Mizuki (Rina Sakuragi) arrives at a new school, where she is constantly bullied by her female classmates. There, she is brutalized, harassed and even stuffed in the classroom’s locker in front of a teacher, who, incredibly, turns a blind eye. Soon, strong-willed Mizuki grows close to Kirie (Maika Shimamura) and joined by Shibanai (Syun Asada), a boy in a similar situation, the three of them band together to oppose their tormentors. Their few successes are further complicated as the bullies become more insistent and the school’s other abusive, two-faced faculty members come out of the woodworks. Dealing with increasingly neurotic, sexually repressed parents at home, Mizuki finds refuge in self-harm, and as if all of this wasn’t enough, her traumatic experiences seem to fuel another kind of desire altogether. As here rage grows stronger and deeper, her sexuality seemingly blooms… quite literally. Whether reality or a surreal dream, what appears to be a strange “corpse flower” has taken root in her brain, and as it grows, nourished by the violence perpetrated against her, she discovers it might just be the spirit of vengeance she has been looking for.

Co-written by Shinji Imaoka (of the demented pinku musical UNDERWATER LOVE) and helmed by long-working pinku maestro and underground cinema legend Hisayasu Sato (NAKED BLOOD, LOVE & LOATHING & LULU & AYANO), HANA-DAMA: THE ORIGINS starts off as a seemingly mundane high-school bullying drama. But in typical Sato fashion, the film slowly, sadistically and expertly builds, ever-tipping into stranger, craftier territory; from the very real to dream-like and surreal, the film transforms like a waking nightmare, until it becomes a cathartic and absurd farce of excessive, bloody, colourful revenge and retribution. Rina Sakuragi is absolutely mesmerizing in the lead performance, rough as nails, charismatic and as memorable as any of Sato’s previous, ill-fated heroines. And what HANA-DAMA lacks in polish, it compensates with ample lo-fi malaise and the unique, unsettling and visceral quality of Sato’s work, here tackling one of Japan’s foremost problems. Sato targets bullying, abuse and intimidation with impunity, little artifice and not an ounce of melodrama, and through this, HANA-DAMA proves to be a poignant and strange social critique, not only of girl-on-girl violence, but of institutional abuse at large.

— Ariel Esteban Cayer