Sundance Film Festival: “The Girl From Nagasaki” is one cray-cray Madame Butterfly


What was the craziest thing I saw in “The Girl From Nagasaki”? Was it the modern sequences featuring women trussed up and hanging from cocoons in the ceiling, dripping gory red paint? Was it the slow motion 3D mushroom clouds that filled the screen? Or was it when the main character visits the American consulate in Japan, and the consul is played by legendary, leathery ‘70s film producer Robert Evans?

Oh, it was all this and so much more. Michel Comte’s phantasmagoric 3D adaptation of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” played like the weirdest parts of a Cremaster movie, a Pina dance piece, a Tool concert, and a Japanese Noh play all smashed together.

I kinda loved it.

I mean, I can understand people being turned off by the sheer bizarreness of the film – this is absolutely an art film, properly classified in the “New Frontiers” section of the Sundance Film Festival. But the images are so enthralling, so gloriously excessive, that I was hypnotized.

Cho-cho (Marika Wordell) is the Nagasaki survivor, raised in a geisha house, who falls for a handsome American pilot. They marry, he leaves to join the space program (cue “Major Tom”) with promises to return. He never does, and Cho-cho refuses to believe in his betrayal, her desperate hope becoming a kind of madness that washes across the screen.

The emotions are all outsized, operatic, and the film flutters between live performance and staged scenes, computer animation and abstract imagery. Christopher Lee is in there, as is Michael Wincott, who rhapsodizes about the various flavor notes of sake. It’s all a bit exhausting at times, but undeniably strange and daring.

And it’s certainly like nothing else we’re likely to see at Sundance, which is why I was a little surprised to see so many walkouts at the press screening I attended. Yes, it’s a head trip, and sure, it’s a little pretentious. But are you really in that big a hurry to see yet another dramedy about an aimless twentysomething finding himself?

One thought on “Sundance Film Festival: “The Girl From Nagasaki” is one cray-cray Madame Butterfly

  1. Thanks for this. I wasn’t sure about my reaction to the film—too over the top, too grandiose to actually convey emotion—but I did appreciate the contrast of the approach to most of what’s at Sundance.

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