Film Text: Red Post on Escher Street

Film Text: Red Post on Escher Street

Red Post on Escher Street

By Chloe Lizotte

The chicken or the egg—which came first? In other words, which is the authentic source?

The question arises in a conversation during Sion Sono’s Red Post on Escher Street. Members of a theater troupe describe how their lives seem to progress along “continuous tracks of an oval,” where each new acquaintance reminds them of someone they already know. The film is structured around similarly uncanny echoes, doubling back within its own timeline to develop characters on the edges of scenes we’ve seen before. And as the troupe and their fellow townspeople audition for fictitious filmmaker Kobayashi’s aptly titled Mask, there is significant bleed between the people we meet inside and outside of the rehearsal space. As Sono blurs divisions between originals and doubles, imagination and reality, and cause and effect, he suggests that films are uniquely poised to spring from their intersection.

For Sono, smoothing out those wrinkles into linear order would betray Red Post’s characters—and it would spoil the fun. His prolific filmography embraces maximalism on all fronts: the past decade alone includes Tokyo Tribe, a hip-hop musical; ANTI-PORNO, a gonzo, fourth-wall-breaking softcore film for Nikkatsu; and Prisoners of the Ghostland, his English-language debut, which hurtles Nicolas Cage through post-apocalyptic shootouts. Sono packs his films so tightly with this passion for excess—for gore, for sex, for the pulpiest cinematic spoils and atrocities—that they encourage a surrender to the senses, but that’s where the real experience begins. Absorption into such a visceral feast leaves one vulnerable to sudden slashes of sincerity, a fragility poking through an otherwise high-key performance. “Movies are about emotions!” screams a character in his 2019 film The Forest of Love, and Sono is interested in pushing their limits, even—perhaps especially—as he strains his actors’ vocal cords. Instead of framing artifice as a vehicle to introspection, Sono asks whether both registers can be one and the same.

The film-within-the-film in Red Post puts this theory to the test. Each character channels their hopes, fears, and regrets into their line readings; as we grow familiar with the stages of the audition ritual—mailing the application, waiting for a callback, and rehearsing for “D-Day,” as Sono wryly calls it—unique mannerisms stand out within each step of the routine. Even outside of their performances, there are surprising revelations: a construction roadblock in front of the rehearsal space initially seems a Buñuelian throwaway gag, but morphs into a rite of passage for each character, as they opt to either verbally spar with the construction workers, view the detour as a sour omen, or simply dash through the zone without asking permission. The question of who is a main character and who is a supporting character fades away in favor of these details, which are why Kobayashi, whose fitting namesake continually challenged studio-imposed limits, is so determined to cast unknown actors in Mask. Sono’s film zooms even further out to capture the filmmaking process as a whole: the crowd’s idiosyncrasies are its lifeblood.

Real or imaginary, artificial or authentic, chicken or egg—there are comforts to logic, but for Sono, filmmaking can leap over reason’s false dichotomies. As Kobayashi finds, even the dead can come back to life through a cinematic framework, which keeps the ghost of his ex-girlfriend in the room with him… as long as he’s working. That desire to clinch the impossible links Kobayashi’s dreams to Sono’s most full-throttle genre exercises. And in Red Post on Escher Street, each new perspective enriches that driving impulse. A film that begins with a shot of a crowd, a blur of activity and unfamiliar faces, evolves into a panorama of those characters’ micro-worlds: a young woman grappling with the death of her fiancé, a self-proclaimed folk hero of the extras, a devoted Kobayashi fan club. The film is less of an escape from reality than a confrontation with its extremes, expansive and irreducible.