By Hemanth Kissoon
Hardworking director Sion Sono doesn’t make it easy for an audience. And why should he? His films are ambitious, edgy and unafraid of depicting violence (Cold Fish) or testing an audience’s stamina (Love Exposure is nearly four hours). I was very much anticipating Guilty of Romance, his third film playing in the UK in as many years. As you can see from my rating, not only has Sono not met my expectations, but I feel he has taken a step back. Actually more than step back, he has made something exploitative and borderline offensive.
It opens on a gruesome crime scene, you know, one of those sado-sexual ones that the CSI franchise appear to love titillating its mainstream audience with. The intro is not as shocking as it once might have been thanks to TV. A female torso is found headless, mutilated and co-joined with mannequin body parts. Two timelines then unfurl, one given little space, the investigation into the death, and the other the circumstances that led to it.
Guilty of Romance is the story of Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka), an unfulfilled housewife – basically a servant to her celebrated author husband (not given a name), whom she adores. Even though he is a writer, he doesn’t work at home; instead leaving at 7am everyday, in a suit, and returning at 9pm. He likes everything precise, from his designer soup to the way his slippers are positioned. There is a lack of an interest from him in sleeping with Izumi. On a visit by two of the latter’s acquaintances the weirdness of the situation is brought to her attention, and triggers a mild epiphany. Izumi decides to get a job. Hubby is supportive, not wanting her to be bored. At first this meek lady works at a supermarket, but is then approached by a “model scout”, who asks Izumi if she wants to be in a photo shoot. Uh oh! Alarm bells are not going off for the lead, but it is probably for every member of the audience. As expected this moves things to something more sinister – pornography, and then multiple affairs. This is the start of a downward slide, which snowballs when she meets Kazuko (Miki Mizuno), an associate professor moonlighting as a prostitute. Degradation of self-confidence and self-worth becomes a theme, along with societal hypocrisy. That is all well and good, but there is too strong a sense of exploitation (see also this year’s woeful Sucker Punch). Guilty of Romance lacks the sophistication, say, of Bunuel’s Belle de Jour.