The career of Sion Sono has seen some of the most eclectic collections of films and projects of any artist working in the medium. Of the half-dozen films he released in 2015 alone, there was a fantasy drama (Love & Peace), an existential sci-fi flick (The Whispering Star), an action film (Shinjuku Swan) and a suspense horror film (Tag). Which makes this particular offering simultaneously strange and perfectly at ease with Sono’s oeuvre, as the avant-garde filmmaker enters the realm of teen comedy.
Based on the manga series Minna! Esupa Dayo! by Kiminori Wakasugi, THE VIRGIN PSYCHICS (映画 みんな！エスパーだよ！) is actually a consolidation of a 12-part series Sono directed for television. In Notsu, Oita Prefecture, virginal teen Yoshiro (Shota Sometani) is granted the ability to read minds after being struck with cosmic rays while masturbating. He soon realises that he isn’t the only one, and that the combined powers of the new ESPers might be the only thing capable of saving the world from an imminent threat.
THE VIRGIN PSYCHICS is about as batty as its plot description sounds. Aping the over-the-top language of the manga that it derives from, the comedy is very much based in the realm of boner gags. Powers range from mind-reading and nude teleporting through to telekinetic manipulation of sex toys. The evil plot is similarly inclined, with a collective of wicked psychics raising an army of soldiers like a nymphomaniac version of pod people.
Looking like it was constructed inside a teenage boy’s brainpan, the ridiculously short skirts, deep cleavages and non-sequitur shots of panties leave no doubt that the film has sex on the brain. Yet for all of the overt sexual references, the film is surprisingly coy about nudity with a sexually curious innocence about it. The inability of certain characters to control their urges at all is partially mocking that entitled mentality, but it’s borderline obsessive as well. There’s also a broad cultural attitude towards homosexuality and sexual promiscuity that doesn’t necessarily sit well with Western audiences, or anybody over the age of 12 for that matter, and it’s what separates Sono’s film/series from being an effective parody.
The strangest thing about THE VIRGIN PSYCHICS, and that’s saying something, is that the truncated series never really makes you feel as though you are missing something. It’s a whole entity, if not always a sensible one. The brightly coloured photography matches the extreme performance of Sometani, a cartoon series of exaggerated facial expressions and high-pitched squeals that are at odds with his more dramatic performances.
If you can get your hands on it, you may want to seek out the full series and television special that this comes from. It’s far from Sono’s finest film work, although as a spiritual companion to Tag or a lighthearted descendant of the kinds of epic films he made a decade ago (Love Exposure), it will undoubtedly scratch a certain itch.
THE VIRGIN PSYCHICS is playing at the Sydney Underground Film Festival at the Factory Theatre from 15-19 September 2016.