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A grisly murder occurs in Maruyama-cho, Shibuya, Tokyo - a love hotel district - a woman was found dead in a derelict apartment. Kazuko (Miki Mizuno) is a police officer called to investigate on this case, she will discover the story of two women who, despite appearing respectable on the outside have all manner of darkness hidden away. Written by
Sion Sono, the rising star of Japanese cinema, has been crafting a name for himself with a long line of excellent and unique movies, ever since the cult hit Suicide Club, including 2008's critically acclaimed Love Exposure.
In 2011's festival circuit, including the Helsinki International Film Festival, the director was not represented by one, but TWO excellent films, "Cold Fish" and the movie under review here - "Guilty of Romance".
It is my claim that in Guilty of Romance, we have perhaps the director's best work to date - a masterpiece depicting a psychological vertigo into sublime, sensual desire (and ultimately depravity).
Guilty of Romance, in the trappings of a psychological thriller, is a surprisingly touching tale, in the rough shape of an antique tragedy, about repressed desire and the incapacity of human beings to ever find what they truly (think they) desire. The films touches on the wide scope of human emotions, ranging from the sublime to the base, from the terrifying to the ridiculous, co-existing in every human being as a terrifying, sublime possibility. All of us can be angels or demons. All of us can soar in the heavens or sink into the depths of hell. All of us are humans with our dangerous powerhouse, doubling as cesspool, of thwarted emotions and perverted desires, seething under the calm surface of our everyday lives, waiting to bubble up and turn our lives upside down - but only because our lives weren't stable to begin with (and perhaps NEEDED a bit of disturbing!)...
All this material, our "all too human" character, is explored to great end in this movie. To understand the movie, it helps to understand a bit of Freud and Lacan (and of course Kafka, who is mentioned in the story itself). But to really grasp and feel the movie, one needs, perhaps, to have been hopelessly in love, at least once in one's life, or to have felt a comparably strong passion, to understand the point where reason fails and desire takes over.
Due to Sion Sono's uncompromising style, to viewer needs to feel comfortable with his or her own emotional baggage, because the brutality and horror of the plot can strike an unwary heart as obscene
but this is only a mirage, since the themes of the movie, I claim,
are perfectly ordinary and everyday, just repressed from our everyday consciousness. The film, to put it simply, conveys human desire as a burning, never-ending vertigo of passion (accurately enough) that threatens to overtake human beings even when they think they have finally reached calm and quiet in some safe haven of the soul - like in the all-too-perfect marriage of the protagonist, which quickly gives way, instead, to an exciting adventure into the world of depravity, which both liberates and ensnares our heroine.
Desire, for human beings, is the pain that we love - and loving it hurts. (If you've ever been in love, you know what I'm talking about.)
The gist of the film is that there are desires deeper than words and customs can bear. Even words need to be made into flesh... And flesh demands its reward. Desire is the fuel that can spiral us into hell, or lift us into the heavens...
That's all that can be said about the story without spoiling it. It goes through various twists and turns that need to be experienced to be fully meaningful.
If Love Exposure was Sion Sono's "War and Peace," then this film is his Mulholland Drive or Sunset Boulevard (in addition to being a loose interpretation of Kafka's "Castle") - a terrific psychological thriller with spiritual trappings, all shot in beautiful, colourful, hypnotic film. This film is simply gorgeous to look at. Every shot is like a picture frame you could hang on your wall. The film is edited together like a love letter to the most patient, intelligent, passionate and yearning person (audience?) in the world. This is not an easy film, but this is indeed a very rewarding film, both in the luxury of details and, formally, in the larger arch of the whole film's epic narrative.
The film's absorbing soundtrack, of Baroque and Classical music (typical to Sono's work of late), adds its own extra flair, and is both appropriately placed and emotionally effective. Even the colour palette of the movie works marvels to reflect the changing psychological landscape of the heroine, highlighting her descent to depravity. The fast-paced editing keeps things constantly fresh, and the structure of the film is carefully constructed to provide an impeccable vista into a spiritual maelstrom that is psychologically lurid but realistic as an allegory of human desire - despite the absurd, surreal and self-consciously Kafkaesque flourishes that accompany the tale to its tragic depths.
This movie has been accused by some reviewers as having no point beyond shock value. Indeed, it is very difficult to convey the madness of desire without seeming over-the-top. However, the potent, sensual, shocking story functions an allegory of the perverted desire trapped within the heart of every human being, and its excesses are thus justified. This fearless film, I vouch, is one of the top ten films about human desire ever made, up there with Mulholland Drive and Sunset Boulevard, and one of the best Japanese films of the new millennium.
A great film like this is not for everyone, as should be expected, for the patient viewer, its beauty will be revealed. Let the movie be appreciated by those with eyes to see (and a heart to feel).
Summa summarum: a great film that reaches, by way of depravity, the heights of a surprising, brutal masterpiece of a psychological exploration of human desire. It shows the capacities of the art form, wrapped in the tight package of an entertaining, ridiculous and blood-thirsty two hours, well spent on a roller-coaster ride of (all-too-human) desire.
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