Director Spotlight: The Animated Atrocities of Hiroshi Harada

Hiroshi Harada's personal work is hard to find as he keeps the copies of the originals to himself. Due to the transgressive nature of his most infamous piece Midori (1991) it was heavily censored in his home country of Japan and has had very few public showings. Harada considers himself a loner and as such he does all of the work himself on his films and he spent five years and his life savings to complete Midori

Outside of his personal passion pieces Harada does a lot of work in mainstream anime and also interestingly has worked a lot with Square Enix on their video game franchises. It's a shame his art is so obscure because he has created some of the most beautiful and grotesque animated films out there. The two films covered here, Midori and The Death Lullaby (1985), are somewhat easy to find and often pop up on YouTube.


The Death Lullaby (1985)

Bullying seems to be a reoccurring theme in Harada's work and The Death Lullaby tackles this head-on, depicting the systematic torturing of a young boy with a facial deformity (in this case giant protruding teeth) while simultaneously juxtaposing this horror with the industrialization of a rural Japanese village.

The boy (who isn't named) is beaten savagely daily by a gang of older youths who taunt him about his appearance and his sickly mother who seems to suffer from depression and is shown harming herself periodically. Even though it is obvious the boy is suffering greatly at the hands of his tormentors, the authority figures in his life show him nothing but contempt. As his torture intensifies, the boy eventually snaps and he brutally stabs the bullies to death with a knife with a huge evil grin on his face--he has descended completely into madness.


While all of this is going on, Harada increases the tension by having the environment be extremely chaotic and loud. The boy's small village is being overrun with technology, a newly built airport has jumbo jets constantly roaring over the town and a bullet train screeches through the neighborhoods destroying the tranquility. Smog fills the air turning the environment into an industrial hell full of metal and fumes. The harsh modernization coincides with a subtext of distrust of the government--like the boy being left behind and ultimately ignored because of his oppressors, the government is forcing its citizens to acquiesce to all of these changes whether they are beneficial or not. 

Harada utilizes many mediums in this piece: photographs, cel animation, models, and live action video. It is a one man show on a small budget but this raw indie look compliments the blazing anger of the work--this is art made by a profoundly upset individual. Each frame practically seethes with white-hot indignation. At 27 minutes, this is a short but effective scream into the void.

Midori (1991)

Shōjo Tsubaki (The Camellia Girl in English) is a popular character trope that started in 1930s Japanese street theater and has been adapted into several mediums since then: manga, animation, and live action. The Camellia Girl is usually depicted as a young poor adolescent who is forced to work in a carnival after her parents die. The most infamous version of the tale is the manga adaptation by Suehiro Maruo, one of the most prominent artists in the ero-guro scene. In the west it was localized as Mr. Aarashi's Amazing Freak Show but unfortunately has been long out of print and is quite expensive on the used market. Maruo's work is extremely perverse and gory and as a result his take on The Camellia Girl is disturbing and shocking.

Harada's anime adaptation is inspired directly from Maruo's manga and it retains his distinctive Showa period art style. It follows the story of a young girl named Midori who is taken in by a carnival freak show after she is orphaned. The members of the carnival are sadistic and they abuse Midori both physically and mentally every chance they get. As the narrative progresses, Midori is given a small reprieve of happiness as she meets and marries a dwarf magician named Masamitsu, but this is short-lived. Midori is a dark and nihilistic anime with one of the bleakest endings I have ever seen.



Midori is often talked about in hushed tones because of the explicit nature of its contents--there are several rape scenes, sexual abuse, torture, body horror, puppies being graphically killed and many other problematic elements. This has led to the film being harshly criticized, but all of this horror has a point. Midori is about the isolation that comes from being bullied and the idea that if it goes on long enough some people might not ever recover. Sometimes beautiful flowers get trampled under foot and they perish, but perhaps that makes the the short time it bloomed that much more exquisite.

The animation is a mixed bag with slideshow style still images interspersed with more fluid fully animated segments. There is an amazing set-piece towards the end of the film when Masamitsu uses his dark magic to twist the bodies of a crowd of people who are jeering him and it's very effective. Harada's strong control of the story throughout makes the still and animated parts blend together beautifully and it feels more stylized than limited. As an adaptation of Maruo's work it's fantastic, and it includes almost everything from the original manga. Hopefully, there will come a time when a restored version of this dark fairy tale will be available for all to see.

--Michelle Kisner