Guilty of Romance
Local outfit Monster Pictures are on fire
lately. Their recent catalogue comprises an impressive and diverse
assortment of twisted worthies, you can’t walk five metres without
spotting their distinctive logo in sticker or t-shirt form and their
Fantastic Asia Film Festival (this year transformed into the 10-day
Monster Fest) has been described as ’a hectic festival packed with
blood, boobs and assorted Asian oddness,’ which the world certainly
needs more of.
Substitute the word ‘film’ for the word
‘festival’ in the preceding sentence and you’ve pretty well described
Guilty of Romance, the concluding chapter of Sion Sono’s
loosely-connected ‘Hate Trilogy’ which also comprises the madcap Love
Exposure and the gritty, blackly comic serial killer masterpiece
Eschewing some of the zanier elements of
his recent work in favour of the singularly unsettling ambience that
characterised earlier films such as Strange Circus and Suicide
Club, Guilty of Romance
follows 29-year-old Izumi (Megumi
Kagurazaka), a bored housewife trapped in a loveless marriage.
Desperate to experience some excitement before her thirtieth birthday,
she signs with a nude modelling agency. Consumed with desire and
fascinated with her newly discovered libido, she quickly progresses to
softcore porn and a series of increasingly risky trysts, during the
course of which she meets world-weary Kazuko (Miki Mizuno, Carved),
a full time university lecturer and part time streetwalker.
I’m not sure if Lolita has been any
sort of influence on Sono’s work, but his latest outing shares a number
of consistencies with Nabokov’s magnum opus. Both are multifaceted
murder mysteries with psychosexual undertones, and both give away key
plot details in their prologues: in Lolita we learn in a
roundabout way that the pubescent object of Humbert’s desire is dead,
and in Guilty of Romance we are informed before their stories
begin that both Izumi and Kazuko are on the missing person’s list.
Thanks to a grisly and quintessentially Sono-esque opening scene we also
presume at least one of them has been murdered.
Lord knows I’m no psychologist, but I’d be
willing to bet good money that old Sion grew up poor and that one or
both parents were aloof to the point of coldness. At any rate a number
of his more familiar themes - the vapidity of upper middle class
existence, the hypocrisy inherent in institutions such as marriage and
religion, the sublimation of passive femininity to dominant masculinity,
the destructive nature of the repressed sexual urge once released - are
prominently on display, and they have seldom been dealt with so
powerfully or as lucidly, by any director, as they are here. Quite
simply Sono is on top of his game and has been for quite some time.
Only the equally prolific Takeshi Miike, with whom his work shares
certain stylistic and thematic tendencies, can rival Sono in the
unbridled potency of his imagery and the intensity of performance he
musters from his leads.
Audio & Video
Guilty of Romance has been given
suitably lavish treatment from Monster and there isn’t much to fault on
the AV front. The 16:9 anamorphic transfer is crisp and free of grit
and artefacts, colours are sharp and the atmospheric cinematography is
particularly effective in HD. The DD 5.1 Japanese audio mix is rich and
immersive without being overbearing.
On offer are an exclusive 40-minute
interview with lead actress Megumi Kurazaka, and an Audio Commentary
with UK film scholar Jasper Sharp. This latter is a particularly
worthwhile addition: Sharp’s books like Behind the Pink Curtain
and his Midnight Eye guide comprise some of the most
comprehensive and insightful works extant on the field of modern
Japanese cinema, and his commentary track dissects the film and indeed
Sono’s entire oeuvre in some depth.