FringeNYC Review: Kamikaze Cutesauce Cosplay Club

BY CHARLES BATTERSBY | Japan has a civilization with thousands of years of history, but foreigners tend to distill all of Japanese culture down to samurai movies, Hello Kitty and tentacle porn. “Kamikaze Cute-Sauce Cosplay Club” is a performance art piece that takes a look at how Japan struggles with its reputation abroad, and the clash between modernization and tradition. Along the way it examines the phenomenon of cosplay and the differences between who people want to be, and who they are.

Fringe_CosplayThe story is mostly conveyed through dance and movement, with the occasional use of puppetry and mask. When characters speak it is usually in pseudo-Japanese — one character delivers a speech that is nothing more than the names of famous Japanese corporations. In other scenes, schoolgirls speak using common anime phrases. A magical cat puppet manages to say a few lines of proper English, but many characters use English words with Japanese accents so thick you can practically see the Katana.

It is divided into three episodes, each of which is loosely based around a different subculture and its stereotypes. First up is the postwar anime and manga culture. It includes liberal references to “Sailor Moon,” “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and giant Kaiju monsters — all of which have surprisingly mature themes beneath the cutesy art style and rubber Godzilla suits.

The second episode uses tropes of samurai films to examine the plight of the “Salaryman” office drones and their families. This episode, relatively linear and straightforward when compared to the other two, has some excellent choreography in the fight scenes. It also highlights the use of gender in the show and in cosplay culture in general, with actor Alex Roy playing a female character dressed in girly Japanese street fashions. The final episode brings all of these characters together, and further explores the ongoing themes of gender and identity in the show.

The costumes are, naturally, exceptional. The cast dresses up in Sailor Scout outfits, school uniforms, deliberately boring business suits, Plugsuits from “Evangelion,” and even a giant robot samurai outfit. An interesting aspect of the performance is the use of “Anime Girl” masks that are distorted versions of big-eyed cartoon characters (which are already distorted versions of the human face). The masks add a deliberately alienating effect to the otherwise sexy Sailor Scout outfits and school uniforms.

“Kamikaze Cutesauce Cosplay Club” uses an “Orientalist” viewpoint, in which all of Japanese history is boiled down to a few clichés — including a mandatory tentacle monster/schoolgirl shower scene. However, the show itself is aware of this, and the true butt of the joke are people who can’t see beyond the most superficial levels of this culture.

For info on the show’s creators, visit thequasimondo.com.