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“You oughta be in pictures,” sang Rudy Vallee in a 1934 song that became old Hollywood’s unofficial anthem, and the characters of Sion Sono’s shambolic, entertaining “Red Post on Escher Street” are still telling themselves a version of this lyric as they vie for roles in a present-day indie film. Most are young women with zero acting experience who nonetheless submit their audition applications via a red post box on the fictional Escher Street, with everything from bold confidence to sweaty trepidation.

Scripted by Sono, the film reflects the real-life methods of its director, who has long used auditions to cast his films and has centered many of them on female protagonists played by up-and-comers. Actresses such as Yuriko Yoshitaka (“Noriko’s Dinner Table”) and Hikari Mitsushima (“Love Exposure”) went on to stardom after featuring in a Sono film.

“Red Post on Escher Street” also has an anarchic spirit reminiscent of “Bad Film,” a movie about warring street gangs that Sono shot guerilla-style in 1995 but did not release until 2012. Filmed in eight days with students of an acting workshop Sono taught, the film has rough edges, especially in the harum-scarum ending, but is also informed by Sono’s three decades in the business.

Red Post on Escher Street (Esha Dori no Akai Posuto)
Rating
Run Time 148 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Now showing

This means even the more cartoonish characters feel created from his long experience and overactive imagination, not cliches. And Sono seems to have enjoyed himself in making the film, in contrast to his more commercial efforts, whose madness impresses as more calculated.

The story begins with vignettes introducing the wannabe stars, with the chronology jumping back and forth as the connections between the stories unfold. The pace is brisk as one introduction follows another in a blur, but standout characters emerge from the crowd, including a theater troupe playing female gangsters in their latest production; an all-female fan club for the film’s handsome director (Tatsuhiro Yamaoka), whose white-clad members proclaim their undying devotion; the earnest, pure-hearted Kiriko (Riko Kurokouchi), who is chaperoned to her audition by her protective parents; and the angry, volatile Yasuko (Sen Fujimaru), who has just spent a week with her father’s bloody corpse.

Meanwhile, two middle-aged producers angle to get lead roles for their inamoratas. Opposing them is Katako (Mala Morgan), the director’s dead but very alive-looking girlfriend, who serves as his adviser during the auditions as well as his scriptwriter when he hits an impasse during production. A growing band of extras, including rejected auditionees, not only comment as a comic Greek chorus, but start to grab leading roles as the production descends into chaos.

This may sound like so much sound and fury, signifying nothing beyond a meta game for Sono and his cast, but with a classical score — a Sono trademark — providing a serene counterpoint to the madcap on-screen action, “Red Post on Escher Street” becomes a heartfelt ode to the movies, made with practiced craft beneath the appearance of shot-on-the-fly craziness.

Will it launch any of its young actors to stardom? My money’s on Morgan, who brings the ghostly Katako to life with a fierce energy and blithe charm. By the end of “Red Post on Escher Street” it’s obvious that she, not her overwhelmed boyfriend, ought to be directing the film-within-a-film, whose story has to do with the end of the world. But for the talented Morgan, to paraphrase another old song, it could be the start of something big.

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