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Kuso
KusoCourtesy of Brainfeeder Films

Sick, shit & skin lesions: FlyLo on his gross-out first film

Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus talks his love of prosthetics, Japanese horror and prompting walkouts at Sundance with his headfucking new midnight movie Kuso

It’s already been called ‘the grossest movie ever made’. Kuso, the directorial debut of Steven Ellison – perhaps best known for producing skewed electronic music as Flying Lotus – is so stuffed with wtf scenes that it prompted walkouts at Sundance (FlyLo himself claims that only 20 people who left, but that’s still a lot of people to leave feeling queasy).

So what’s so gross about it? Picture a guy giving birth to a giant cockroach out of his ass, or a guy receiving a blowjob from a talking boil on a girl’s neck. Yep, it’s a 95-minute headfuck replete with puke, shit, cum, and skin conditions – the stuff that nightmares are made of. And yet it’s also kind of funny.

Described as a collection of semi-connected short films chronicling the lives of the mutant women, men, and children of Los Angeles following the earthquake to end all earthquakes, Kuso is one for the midnight movie crowd. FlyLo spent over two years working on it, handling everything from the editing to the sound design.

Here, he explains how he nearly lost his mind making the movie, and talks about his love of prosthetics, Japanese horror, and the story behind those Sundance walkouts.

How did Kuso come about?

Flying Lotus: I was making stuff in Photoshop. I saw this crazy gif going around of me and Thom Yorke DJing at a party. It was a really silly gif, it was so funny. And I was thinking, I could do that, I could make some crazy gifs that are silly animations and just get back into visual stuff. I started making stuff in Photoshop. That’s when I started making all these characters with boils and skin lesions and Photoshopping that stuff on people’s faces. I showed my friends and they were like, ‘Eurgh, what is that, it’s awful!’

Where does the title come from?

Flying Lotus: ‘Kuso’? It means ‘shit’ in Japanese (laughs). It’s more like, ‘Oh shit,’ not like a piece of shit. Yeah, I just wanted to have fun. I love it when people don’t know what it means and they find out and go, ‘Oh. Got it.’ I love that moment of discovery for people.

“I didn’t think, ‘Oh what’s the grossest thing?’ To me it was like, ‘What’s the silliest thing I can think of right now? What would make me laugh?’” – Flying Lotus

It’s already been called ‘the grossest movie ever made’. Did you set out to make that?

Flying Lotus: I didn’t think, ‘Oh what’s the grossest thing?’ To me it was like, ‘What’s the silliest thing I can think of right now? What would make me laugh?’ Because making a movie is so hard, man, I was just trying to do something that I would have fun doing. I knew I would have fun making stuff with prosthetics and monsters and creatures, all the fun stuff that you hear about in movies. I didn’t want to make a serious drama on my first go round, I wanted to have fun doing it, and if nothing ever happened with it, at least we had fun making it.  

Was part of it about confronting things that freak you out?

Flying Lotus: I pretty much tried to think of everything I’m afraid of and just chuck it in one movie… It’s definitely dealing with those fears and anxieties, and addressing some things that I’ve wanted to talk about without talking about it on Twitter I guess. I feel like people might be more accepting of it in art as opposed to hearing me say things (laughs), so I just shut the fuck up and put it in the work.

What kind of nightmares surfaced in this?

Flying Lotus: When I was ten, there was a huge earthquake in LA. It was pretty traumatic for me, man. And I think if you live in LA, there’s this anxiety you have about The Big One, you know? What’s gonna happen if it happens today, where will I be, I feel like it might be an earthquake vibe tonight, shall I move some things off the shelves and put them on the floor? It’s a weird anxiety I think we live with in California, and it was something I wanted to put into the film too.

That memory sounds like the root of the film.

Flying Lotus: Absolutely. And I actually tried to make the film have a 90s aesthetic too, to some degree. There’s no specific time when it happens, but I tried to keep it pre-millennium with no computers, no cell phones, none of that kind of crazy technology. So to me it exits in the 90s, and it’s kind of like an alternate universe.

“I knew I would have fun making stuff with prosthetics and monsters and creatures, all the fun stuff that you hear about in movies. I didn’t want to make a serious drama on my first go round” – Flying Lotus

It’s surreal too, in a David Lynch kind of way. Was he an influence?

Flying Lotus: Oh I’m sure. I didn’t try to directly pull from him but I’ve been watching his movies forever and I’m a big fan of his, so I’m sure there’s some influence. I think my influences came from Japan on this one. I love Takashi Miike, Shintaro Kago, different Japanese horror, from manga to the films… fuckin’… what’s the dude I love so much from Tetsuo: The Iron Man… Shinya Tsukamoto! He’s definitely one of my favourites and I keep forgetting how to say his name. I studied his films and I’m a huge fan of the Japanese filmmaking aesthetic and it definitely shows in my work... But I love David Lynch. I think we’re supposed to meet up next month.

Why are you meeting Lynch?

Flying Lotus: Err, little stuff, you know. (laughs, not wanting to give anything away)

A possible collaboration?

Flying Lotus: Er, yeah, hopefully, yeah…

Kuso features new music from Aphex Twin. Did you have him in mind from the start?

Flying Lotus: Actually I was listening to a lot of his music when I was writing that piece, that specific piece of the film, and it was just like I couldn’t imagine not using it. So I hit him up before I started shooting, I was like, ‘Yo, can I use this piece, because I just – I need it!’ And he was really cool about it; he was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’

After the film’s Sundance screening, you tweeted about the reported ‘walkouts’. What happened, was it only like 20 people or something?

Flying Lotus: Okay, so when we showed the movie at every regular screening it was all good, it was great, everyone had a great time, they laughed, some people left – like 20 people left – whatever. They did a press and industry screening where they only invite journalists to come see it, and yeah, some of them didn’t like it, a lot of them left. And that was the thing that they recorded walkouts from. Those people who walked out aren’t normal, they’re journalists – no offence. It’s not for them. I didn’t make it for them. I made it for the midnight movie fans who were there and they really enjoyed it.

“Those people who walked out (at Sundance) aren’t normal, they’re journalists – no offence. It’s not for them... I made it for the midnight movie fans” – Flying Lotus

You spent two years making the movie and you’ve said that you almost lost your mind making it. Why was it so tough?

Flying Lotus: I didn’t anticipate how much work I would be doing personally. I thought I’d have a more committed post-production. Making the movie, shooting it, is hard in itself – but after that, I even had to do visual effects. Man, I never thought I’d have to make my own visual effects for a movie. I did a lot of it myself. I had to. I didn’t have any help or money to get people to do stuff. I mean, a lot of my friends offered help and they did help, but it wasn’t enough. I had to do things on my own – I had to learn how to do really important effects for the movie, sound design, I edited the whole thing more or less with some help. I just didn’t anticipate how much I would personally have to get dirty. 

Lastly, what made you want to make the leap into movies?

Flying Lotus: I’ve always been into films. I went to film school as a kid when I thought that was gonna be my path, but (my) music kind of took off before I could get a hang of anything and I just had to roll with that. I always told myself, if I carved out a name, in some time I would jump back into making films and try and combine the worlds, and this is my first movement in that direction. 

Kuso is released exclusively on Shudder on July 21