Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2012

Midori. Photo by David Labi

In Shinjuku Face in Kabukicho, in what looked like a boxing ring surrounded by some 500 men and women, old and young, the tenth edition of Sadistic Circus took place, bringing its peculiar brand of sideshow vaudeville type acts to another year of spectators.

Gokiburi Combinato. Photo by Dan Grunebaum

Some old faces were on the loaded bill, including the literally elderly face of septuagenarian stripper Asakusa Komadayu, whose grace and elegance in a sequence of ever decreasing lights and changing music defied your perceptions of age and sensuality in a masterful performance. Another troupe from last year, Gokiburi Combinato, appeared on stage brown taped together (with decorous strips over the family jewels) and writhed around sputtering at each other.

Pain Solution. Photo by Dan Grunebaum

The headliners were Pain Solution, fakirs from Norway, who blended pirate and punk and made use of piercings and glottal tricks, like threading a long thin balloon through the nasal passage to emerge from the mouth—and then blowing it up—as well as lying on the traditional bed of nails in various combinations. Their blithe comic style was entertaining but perhaps lacked some of the mystique and build-up of their Japanese co-performers.

Hoop Tokyo Ayumi. Photo by Dan Grunebaum

Case in point was the San Francisco-based Midori, with her spin on the traditional art of Japanese bondage, or kimbaku, where willing subjects are tied up in extravagant ways as the body is converted into an object of art. Dressed as a kind of demonic geisha, Midori inserted giant branches and flowers into her vignette of two lovers suspended in an eternal reach towards each other, before pulling out a knife and dismembering her own construction, and dragging the helpless volunteers off the stage in a wake of fluttering leaves.

Asagi Ageha. Photo by David Labi

Asagi Ageha made an impact appearing against crunching sound and ethereal lighting and baring her full body. She walked slowly, completely naked, around the ring at the level of the audience, stopping before various spectators and staring at them intensely. The stately sensual figure then mounted her stage and hoisted herself up on a silk rope, to spin round and round in acrobatic twists as the electronic music and light show ramped up into a terrifying crescendo.

These were just a few highlights from Sadistic Circus’ crammed bill of oddities, ranging from friendly slapstick to gruesome carnality, and as we emerged into the Shinjuku morning, even Kabukicho no longer seemed so weird by comparison.