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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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The awesomely inappropriately titled "Guilty of Romance" is Sono Sion's recent take on another dysfunctional family dynamic. It was billed as the final installment of a trilogy of movies; the first two being Love Exposure and Cold Fish. I'm not sure why these films are considered a trilogy in any way, as Sono has been making movies like this for a quite a while. Aside from the aforementioned films, Noriko's Dinner Table, Suicide Club, Strange Circus, and several others all fit a similar mold.
If you're not familiar with Sono's work, you should be. He specializes in telling stories involving family and personal relationships from a peculiarly dark perspective. Often sensationalistic, and packed full of cult like themes, sex, violence, and depravity, his films frequently leave an indelible impression on the viewer. It takes more than that to get my attention though, and, it's pretty clear this is a very talented director and writer who has delivered a number of spectacularly effective films over the years. Cold Fish is a wonderfully devious and subversive movie the daughter's final reaction to all the mayhem is worth the price of admission alone. And, I can think of very few films that can be compared to the epic (and I do mean epic) Love Exposure.
Needless to say, Sono's films aren't for everyone, and many people will find them disturbing or distasteful. Oh, and you'll definitely want to keep the kids as far away from these movies as possible. One almost has to wonder if there is something wrong with this director's mind, or, if there was some traumatic past experience that forever shaped his view of the world It's hard to imagine that any rational person could, or would want to, tell so many bizarre stories about the darker side of a person's soul. Regardless of wherever he draws his inspiration, this dude is clearly walking a fine line that often borders on being equal parts brilliant and insane. What results on screen is often fascinating to watch though, and, that's just fine by me.
Guilty of Romance follows Sono's trademark style of storytelling Everybody is a weirdo or deviant, or soon will be. Megumi Kagurazaka (who played the role of the supporting wife in Cold Fish) takes the lead here she plays the dutiful (albeit sexually repressed) wife of a famous romance novelist. Bored with her everyday housewife routine, she searches for an outlet which soon leads her down a path from light modeling to porn star to sex obsessed prostitute. Her transformation from reserved woman to sexually insatiable beast is impressive to say the least it took some guts for this actress to just take on this role, let alone embrace it the way she did; she gets naked (a lot), and she has sex (a lot), throughout this film. In addition to her blistering physical performance, Ms. Kagurazaka does an equally fine job of portraying the changing/growing thoughts & feelings of her character as one would be inclined to expect within the context of the role she was given. She single handily drives this film to be better than it should be, and, she is by far the best part of this whole endeavor.
There's 4 other primary characters in this film There's the husband (who may or may not be hiding his own secret life), the female professor (who has long since undergone her own secret sexual transformation, and whom now acts as somewhat of a mentor to Megumi's character), the mother of the professor (who doesn't take too kindly to tolerating her daughter's debauchery), and the playboy/pimp dude who helps facilitate much of the sexual goings on.
As the story progresses, all primary characters discover more about each other and themselves, while the plot unfolds towards the big finale. It's all pretty standard stuff (for a Sono film), but, there was very little that stood out or surprised me here. In fact, I was a bit disappointed overall. Whereas many of Sono's previous films have an oddly free flowing appeal to them, Guilty of Romance seems to be quite a bit more forced and contrived, if not downright pretentious .and, it's all very linear in nature. As with the case with many of his films, there's usually a character or two, or some event, that sends the protagonist on their journey of discovery, and, that's no different here. The pimp, professor, and mother, all play their part in filling this role in this instance, but I think there was far too much importance placed on the significance of each of these characters. These characters also serve to be part of a secondary story that revolves around a murder mystery this whole entire secondary story was unnecessary in my opinion, and this only served to detract from the primary focus of the film.
This film would have probably been better served to just concentrate on the role of the lead character, and, to just let the star of the film have at it! It would have been far more interesting to just observe her performance, and what the effects and outcome of her actions would ultimately have on her life and her marriage. The lead role didn't really require the heavy handed impetus of the other characters in the story handling them as more of fleeting acquaintances (similar to how the modeling scout or porno actor were implemented) would have likely worked much better overall.
Overall, I did enjoy this movie enough for the most part to recommend, and, as usual for a Sono film, it is quite memorable But, I've come to expect more from this director over the years; I guess that's the price one must continually pay for repeated success. Worth it alone, though, just for Megumi Kagurazaka's incredible performance.
6-7 out of 10 stars should do it I'll give it a 7.
P.S. This film borders on being a stylized soft core porn film with a story to tell So, Viewer Beware!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An excellent film, beautifully filmed and acted, reminiscent in many
ways of Bunuel's Belle de Jour and Godard's Vivre Sa Vie.
It's quite difficult to write more than this without including spoilers, but I'll try. The initial plot's very simple: we have a very subservient wife of a famous but somewhat trashy novelist living a very affluent life but not giving her any attention, sexually or in any other way with the possible exception of being extremely demanding of precision domesticity. Naturally this woman, about to turn 30 is frustrated (or rather, very confused by her situation) and when the offer of glamour modelling and a couple of sexually aggressive men come her way, things start to change.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From Nikkatsu company came yet another title that fills the genre quota
for the past year (thriller / erotica). Unfortunately, the only
mystical thing about this piece is rumor that there are two versions,
one of 144 minutes for Japanese market, and less than 2 hours version
for the rest of the world (I cannot find longer version myself). For
agitated fans, Sono stated that non of them is directors cut, but he
just loves both versions...
There are three intertwined stories of a female characters, one of a housewife, other of a cop and third of professor which all come together in the end. While professor is not as intense as the housewife, cop is barely important and poorly presented. Professor (by day and prostitute by night) is responsible for the awakening of main character.
Housewife Izumi, whose roll in society is masochistic by itself (many would agree) is slave of her cold husbands habits (lining up the slippers, making tea with a hourglass). Izumi is sexually unsatisfied and unfulfilled, and he is asexual (at first sight) and famous for writing and publicly reading his erotic novels. As soon as Izumi gets her first chance for sexual blooming and upheaval she does it by the book: naked photos, sex on video, prostitution... Her sexuality, thus, rises from housewife, who wants to be pleased, to prostitute who wants to please. House perversions of Izumis's husband culminates with sexual perversions which are far more appropriate than those that were happening in the house. Izumi, with her newly gained sexual freedoms, wants to start working. She finds a job as sausage salesgirl and in time, even sausages get bigger as her sexual appetite grows. While Izumi worked only for her husband (as housewife) she was completely deprived of pleasure (and romance), but together with first money came first 'sausage' of pleasure.
Tokyo and explosions of colors (and balloons) in combination with intense classical music is, in a way, a reason why you should see this film. Twice. And Izumi's balloons, of course. In the end, I could say that many are guilty of something here, including the director, but they are definitely 'not guilty of romance'.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Another outlandish, tour-de-force thriller from Japanese director Sion
Sono, GUILTY OF ROMANCE is quite unlike anything you've ever seen
before. The previous movie in his loose trilogy of 'human condition'
films was COLD FISH, in which a mild-mannered fish shop owner was sent
on a journey of dark discovery, whereas this film is about a
mild-mannered housewife who undergoes her own bizarre ordeal.
If anything, GUILTY OF ROMANCE is even colder and more harrowing than COLD FISH, even though it's considerably less gory and not really a horror movie. Instead, this film is about a woman who ends up becoming a prostitute, so it's all about a dual journey of self-discovery and self-corruption. It's quite dark and depressing, although the film is so well-shot and well-made that it's quite gripping and very watchable. I found it had similarities to Kim Ki-duk's BAD GUY, although Sion's style is all his own.
Taking the lead is Sono's own wife, Megumi Kagurazaka, who gives a quite astonishing performance. She's often required to go completely nude for the role, but far from being a mere voluptuous figurehead for the tale, she's oddly endearing perhaps because of her foibles. You can understand her. Equally as good in support is the frightening Makoto Togashi, playing a truly broken character who is one of the most disturbing I can remember seeing in a film. The movie is a visual masterpiece, featuring surrealistic touches and expert cinematography, and it seems to cover a heck of a lot of ground in a running time that isn't overlong. It's the sort of film you watch once and never forget.
This is just TYPICAL SONO. Over 2 hrs, that's A MUST with him lol (the
director, Sion Sono), and not a problem, just something that either
seems to happen because sooo much is going on, or he intentionally
makes it that long to be seen as unique in style and vision. Well
Either way this is my favourite film by him. First is this, then Cold Fish, then Suicide Club 1, then Play in Hell, then Love Exposure, then Suicide Club 2, then Strange effing Circus, eugh lol (strange indeed and just...ugh. It was ugly looking, lacking and disconcerting. Not sure about the point there AT ALL but I'm sure anyone with a way of words can explain anything).
Well anyway, this film made me cry. Not because I sought out a certain kind of film during a time of mental boredom and emotional fatigue after chronically intermittent downward spirals. And it just drains my head and heart afterward. I end up feeling dead inside and so I need stimulation, fast. I was tired of mundane stuff. I've no idea how I came to find Sono's work but at the time it hit the spot that wasn't getting hit, ever. "Guilty of Romance" might be a top favourite film on my expanding list.
Thankfully it wasn't so disturbing by the time I got to it. Maybe if I were more prudent or had a virgin mind and eyes I would be more terrified like I'm probably meant to be after watching what probably is something so disturbing. But I don't see it that way; it's comforting in its depravity. Because it's all too real.
What's sad is the character played by Sono's real life wife. She's lonely, untouched, and insecurely obsequious/subservient. She does everything meticulously for her husband. Not herself and no one else. Sono normally introduces every character for like an hour separate lol with "chapters" but here you still have no effing clue how the wife ended up here, from what I recall after a couple rewatches. Like who her family are, where they are, where she's from. It seems to be an unspoken (or culturally context) arranged marriage/"omiai" in Japan. Because I don't see the love that brought them together!
She IS guilty of romance. She wanted it badly and so badly that she later was so confused enough to be talked OUT of wanting it. It was too much of a burden to seek so she gave up on it, almost maniacally so. I still am not sure about the "whodunnit" in this film, like the who-killed-who factor. It would've been SO great with JUST the wife's story, being alone, getting naively tangled into the sex industry, infidelity; her loss of status, loss of self, loss of love and the mind, (all the things she desperately sought out) after meeting the hooker who somehow inspired her (this hooker is someone who crawled out of the dark side of feminism if not misandry altogether, or just utter insanity lol. I absolutely HATED that woman and her character, and the actress. All of it just put me off. Not the sex scenes, not the anger, just...her. She was...well...unattractive lol But whatever.)
I get her story, afterall it took an hour to clear it up. She basically has a very creepy traditional mother, and a double life herself as a prestigious lecturer and hooker. This probably shows her self conflict of fulfilling expectations and then saying to hell with them. It's a strange conflict; I'm sure most people might at least have sex or do kinky things for pleasure out of the job, but her strolling around at night assertively telling men to have sex with her when she's a professor is albeit weird to say the least lol And why this attracts the wife to this lifestyle, no clue, but that also indicates how lost and alone she is.
The plot twist was good, didn't see it coming, betrayals everywhere. Madness in all these fools and creeps to be honest. And it drove the wife to have to accept the path she followed behind the hooker. What's so heartbreaking for me is that in the end, she had to do it alone, undeservedly. She was gleeful in what I think is denial and just plain gullibility that this secret life would eventually find her satisfaction, and would spark passion and romance in if not her marriage then her life. That's how she is guilty. Sono is probably saying she was gullible to think that road she chose would lead anywhere like that, but luckily it seems this kind of downfall is not normal, that a certain type of person would descend this way. A person desperately seeking the "Castle," obviously a metaphor in this film for stability and happiness. Apparently based on some Russian or German or something story, which Sono likes to do as well.
There's also something in here, and I'm not sure if it's an original piece of Sono's promoting his own poetry here, but it was something thematic in the film about not crying. And this was recited by the hooker. She damn near preached it. Not to cry, but to do. This also ties in with Buddhism which Sono might be. That sorrow is selfish. And this could've driven the wife to not wallow in dolor and self pity, but to do. Unfortunately what she did was stupidly wrong.
Does anyone care about the color, the soundtrack, scenery, wardrobe? Stuff like that, those elements that do help make the film? I'm sure there's a science to all of this, but the film wasn't ugly. Sono intentionally uses color here, all throughout the film. Not sure if it's symbolic; I'm not trying to impress anyone with this ready-at-hand-reach wheel of colors and their meanings. But aesthetically, the color was nice lol The other stuff: eh.
Very unusual and intriguing.
Starts off incredibly well - edgy, very interesting, and doesn't give much away. The transformation of the author's wife is captivating, and has many lessons in liberty, self-will, individualism and their consequences.
However, the second act is confusing, drags on a bit and the plot is not entirely water-tight. Some things just seem added in for shock or weirdness value.
The conclusion is good and closes the loop well, though leaving room for a continuing moral.
Solid performances all round.
A female detective arrives straight from indulging her extra-marital
affair to a crime scene where the mutilated sexual organs of a female
victim have been re-combined with a mannequin. We then follow three
female protagonists in an ostensible exploration of female sexuality.
Sex and murder in the first sixty seconds, part of an impressive sequence that presents bold, dark colours and incessant rain, and promises to analyse the margins of the human psyche in the vein of Seven.
Sion, unfortunately, fails to deliver on the promise, instead indulging his juvenile penchant for sexual humiliation and big sausage jokes. One character drones on endlessly in pseudo-philosophical terms about female sexuality, dressed up for intellectual effect by lacing in Kafka, the females all the while slipping over to the 'dark' side. However, the sex scenes go on too long and are very stagey. The paint balls and asphyxiophilia don't seem to comment on anything except Sono's immaturity. The criminal investigation is non-existent as the detective visits crime scenes, has phone sex, then has the murderer handed to her on a plate. Two of the three females are both indulgent of and ashamed of their sexuality, while the third has an implausible double life as university professor and prostitute. (Coincidentally, the true story that this character is based on is a much more prosaic and toned-down affair).
Sono sets out an interesting stall and there are some juicy dark themes to be explored here, but his writing is not up to the task. He is both fascinated and appalled by female sexuality, and ends up fetishizing it. The camera's gaze on the women is prurient and voyeuristic. Contrast this with the representation of the men who populate the film; servicing the adult films, pimping the women, paying to be johns... They sit on the margins of the frame, their behaviour taken for granted and natural. Only female sexuality is in any way problematized.
Where Sono does excel is in the performances he gleans from his leads. Miki Mizuno as detective Kazuko Yoshida is a charismatic presence who deserved more screen time. Makoto Togashi puts in a kinetic shift as the disturbed Mitsuko Ozawa, managing to carry a role that is punctuated by risible scripted moments, such as a professor soliciting a male student on her own campus. The scene where Mitsuko sits down with guests for tea with her mother is very funny, darkly so, and manages to hit a high spot the rest of the film does not quite achieve. Megumi Kagurazaka, who Sono apparently married recently, also has some sharp comic moments in the early scenes of her buttoned-up marriage. Highly stylized, these moments nonetheless poke a stick at patriarchal attitudes still far too prevalent in 21st century Japan. Kanji Tsuda is impressive as the narcissistic husband. The one letdown is Ryuju Kobayashi, who in no way carries the malevolence his character is meant to convey. The wardrobe department clearly would like him to reference 'A Clockwork Orange', but he looks like an interloper from a boy band who stole a big boy's clothes.
'Cold Fish' shows Sono has talent and for the sake of Japanese cinema I'd love to see him stretch himself and break out from the niche genre - somewhere between Pink and Torture Porn - where he has set up camp. A more disciplined script, tighter running time, and more mature engagement with story might make that happen.
What's striking about the movie is the murder at the opening scene. A
woman's body was found that was cut in half, and decapitated. The
missing parts were arranged with parts from a mannequin. Then the story
shifts to the life of Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka) who's a new house wife
of a novel writer. Her husband is a perfectionist, and demands her to
be so as well. But when she finds a part time job at the super market,
things starts to change in her life.
Story is an adaptation of murder of Yasuko Watanabe (description in Wikipedia) by director, and screen writer Shion Sono that occurred in 1997.
The movie to me had two phases. First half was about Izumi, and the way she gets duped into the shady side of society. The second part is the horrible truth about Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi), and the truth about who's body it was that was found at the beginning of the movie.
The first part of the movie was beautiful, but the second part of the movie was gruesome. First part was well made, but I couldn't get into the second part. Mitsuko's character lacked authenticity, and her social background improbable.
So otherwise it was a fine movie, but there was no story towards the end (Mitsuko's life seemed forced, just to justify the plot). I wish the quality was consistent throughout the entire movie.
Sion Sono, the tantalising director of the unforgettable Love Exposure
(2009) and the chilling Cold Fish (2010) brings another dramatic tale
to life in his 2011 debut, Guilty of Romance.
A drama thriller loosely based on the real-life murder of Yasuko Watanabe, a prostitute working the late night streets of Tokyo's Shibuya district in 1997, Sono's take on the events are far from a half-hearted attempt.
Of course, having seen most of Sono's work, the graphic content portrayed in Guilty of Romance may deem shocking to some who, either aren't familiar with Sono's work or Japanese cinema in particular; but to me, I was the least surprised...
The rest of this review is at my Blog; Nihongo-Mania!
Please check it out! IMDb doesn't allow links so, just type in "Nihongo-Mania Japanese cinema reviews blogspot" on Google
Thank you very much! ٩(●ᴗ●)۶
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