With the clarity of hindsight to our advantage, it’s easy to claim Sion Sono’s 8mm debut feature film to be a work of mad genius. A Man’s Flower Road (or perhaps more appropriately, “A Man’s Hanamichi,” which refers to a stage used in kabuki theater) not only contains all the chaotic, demanding, and idiosyncratic signifiers that would become trademarks of this hard to define director, but it also gestures toward his influences with more transparency than does Sono’s later work. Situated somewhere between experimental performance and home movie, the film shares the mania of Gakuryu (a.k.a. Sogo) Ishii’s early films, and the analytical rebellion of Nagisa Oshima’s late ’60s work—a la Burst City and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief—an awkward thematic marriage that Sono would exploit in later films and that audiences would struggle to reconcile, especially with regard to the generous doses of violence. Distinctly bifurcated, A Man’s Flower Road opens with an explosion of lo-fi energy and an undefined foot chase, as the lead character (played by Sono) gleefully runs, fights, and provokes a group of men that oscillate between friend and foe. With grainy, hand-held camerawork, a dissonant soundtrack, guerrilla filmmaking signifiers, public defecation, and destruction of private property, the film’s first act is a study in anarchy as art, taking us from a brawl to a demonstration to an encounter with a gang of kappa, plus plenty of other non sequiturs in between.
Sheds light on the devil-may-care spark that ignited the career of one of the most unconventional filmmakers working today.
And if Part 1 is the carnal catharsis of a young man, then Part 2, “A diagonal line,” flips the script and explores his introspective frustration. A performative home movie, the latter half of A Man’s Flower Road focuses on Sono’s relationship with his parents and his younger sister, as the man navigates his own listlessness and festering ennui—with a finale that includes a methodically laid fuse and the larger-than-life inscription of “life sucks” on the street with a baseball field chalk marker. Sono leans heavily on autobiography and the meager resources available to him. But within those frames, he delivers an uncompromising recital, one from which the rest of his work would easily flow with equal verve and incredible proliferation. Resurrected along with Sono’s short film, I Am Sion Sono!, at this year’s Berlinale, A Man’s Flower Road paints an anomalous portrait of a restless generation through the eyes of a thoughtful and aggressive young man. But perhaps more importantly, it sheds light on the devil-may-care spark that ignited the career of one of the most unconventional filmmakers working today.