The Surreal 16 collective of ‘Fiery’ Obasi, Abba T. Makama and Mike Omonua’s vow to tell stories with elements of the surreal, feature local dialects, reject self-censorship, all from an African perspective is finding success and mainstream acceptance. With the trio enjoying sustained global critical interest from major festival premieres, international critical attention amd global distribution deals, it is indeed surreal times for the Surreal 16
Their latest, festival favorite The Lost Okoroshi, now showing on Netflix, presents surrealist staples in dreams, dances and masquerades, all enhancing Makama’s vision to debunk myths and reintroduce Nigerians to their culture. By taking this narrative path, Makama, as the rest of his collective, continue to expand Nigerian cinema beyond the Nollywood staple.
The Lost Okoroshi follows Raymond (Seun Ajayi), a disillusioned security guard mulling an escape from Lagos bustle to the calmer country side. However, he’s haunted by surreal dreams of a dancing Okoroshi masquerade. This makes for an entertaining premise filled with all of Makama’s stylistic flourishes; cross pollinating classic Nollywood influences like synth-heavy soundtracks from Shay Who and late William Onyeabor, a decidedly grainy television look, his art film sensibilities in editing and cinematography, the static frames reminiscent of the work of Japanese auteur Yasujuro Ozu or, more recently, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida.
Yet, it remains accessible to audiences, thanks to its fable-like plot and comic scenes.
One morning, Raymond, our protagonist, wakes up to discover he’s been transformed into the Okoroshi masquerade after an encouragement from his older friend, Mazi, to embrace the masquerade in his dream. Without his voice and later, his job, Raymond navigates Lagos in this new form, from markets to night club, befriending a dwarfish grifter and a prostitute on the way. In this surreal quest to find normalcy and purpose, he becomes some sort of superman and then momentarily, an entertainer– a sharp critique of societal misunderstanding of masquerades.
Makama’s agenda does shine through, but not without plotting problems in the form of a curious professor arriving suddenly to explain the masquerade, the comically acronymed IPSSHRR and the debate on ownership of the masquerade and his function to their agenda, all overflowing with long exposition.
There’s an earnest conviction to the message that Makama and co-writer Africa Ukoh present in The Lost Okoroshi which urges its audience to turn back to their culture, redirecting fear of it to reverence. But it delivers this message by overfeeding the audience with this agenda in the third act, slowing down a vibrant plot with a sermonizing and unsatisfactory culmination.
However, The Lost Okoroshi is a winner that bravely tackles a difficult subject matter with some humour, in the process, expanding the possibilities of Nigerian Cinema. And as I tweeted earlier this week, it heralds the arrival of a new master on the scene.