Despite massive amounts of sex and chaos, a more restrained, albeit unmistakably powerful, effort from Sono. It must just be another masterpiece, although beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder here.
When avant garde filmmaker Sion Sono’s Cold Fish premiered last year in Japan, and earlier this year in Australia on the festival circuit, its misogyny and visceral brilliance divided audiences. Almost as if in direct response to this, Sono has released Guilty of Romance (恋の罪), a film that puts women in charge of the sex and violence, even if it may still be Sono indulging in liberal doses of both. Indeed, as the third chapter in the so-called “Hate” trilogy of films, that began with 2008′s Love Exposure, Guilty of Romance is very much the companion film – or more accurately, mirror image – of Cold Fish.
When police detective Kazuko (Miki Mizuno,Castle Under Fiery Skies) uncovers a brutally murdered body at the love hotel district of Tokyo, she also uncovers a complex tale of eroticism and repression involving Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka, Cold Fish), the restrained housewife of a famous novelist on the verge of sexual liberation, and Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi, A Symmetry), a university professor with daddy issues who leads a double-life as a street hooker.
Fans of Sono will already be familiar with his over-the-top and brightly coloured view of the world, with bright pink paint being just one of the motifs throughout the film, and how these are used as a clever mask for getting to the root of the conflicting moral identities at the heart of Japan. The exploration of identity is the focal point of Guilty of Romance, with bare breasts a titillating metaphor for bare souls, and it is difficult to take some of the sex scenes terribly seriously when they have the focus of the Showgirls hottub scene. Yet Sono has an unmistakeable vision, and while we have managed to see this vision before, Guilty of Romance may be the more accessible version that audiences need to crack into his always fascinating world.
As a feminist polemic, it may be somewhat more difficult to justify Guilty of Romance, but this is precisely what makes Sono continually interesting to watch. Sono’s social commentary here is a tiny bit superficial, at least here he attempts to use women as something other than objects. Certainly, all of the women have been victims to a certain extent, but Sono’s real interest here is the struggle for personal and sexual identity, something that has often been dealt with in humorously perverse manner in his previous films. Drawing inspiration from David Lynch or even Ingmar Bergman, just with more liberal doses of explicit psycho-sexual encounters, Guilty of Romance is unlike any other film this year. Overindulgent? Absolutely. For fans of Sono, this will be par for the course.
Guilty of Romance screened earlier this year at the Melbourne International Film Festival. It will also screen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival on 9 and 11 September 2011.