Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono
Producer: Yoshinori Chiba
Cast: Miki Mizuno, Makoto Togashi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Kazuya Kojima, Satoshi Nikaido, Ryuju Kobayashi, Shingo Gotsuji, Motoki Fukami
Running Time: 113 min.
Sion Sono, the acclaimed director of “Suicide Club,” returns with the final installment of his so-called Hate Trilogy. Following up two modern classics like “Love Exposure” and “Cold Fish” couldn’t have been an easy task, and while “Guilty of Romance” is arguably the weakest of the trilogy, it’s a Sion Sono film – which means it’s still pretty damn brilliant.
As in “Cold Fish,” Sion Sono once again takes inspiration from a true life crime. Sono uses a murder incident at a Love Hotel in 90’s Shibuya as a springboard to tell his story of a repressed housewife (Megumi Kagurazaka) falling down a Lynch-ian rabbit hole into a world of sex and debauchery. The doting wife to a strict and unemotional husband who seems more preoccupied with his career as a famous novelist, Megumi eventually finds her way into a modeling gig that opens all sorts of dark doors for her life. Along the way, she befriends a lady of the night (Makoto Togashi) who also happens to be a university professor by day. Together, the two of them explore an unforgiving society where true love and the fulfillment of one’s desires are mutually exclusive events – and the pursuit of either often leads to self-destruction.
As has become something of a trend for Sion Sono, the true director’s cut of “Guilty of Romance” – running 144 minutes – is not available outside of Japan. International audiences have to make do with the 113 minute cut. On the upside, the Blu-ray looks fantastic, despite the film’s obvious low-budget. However, there are certainly areas where the film could serve to be fleshed out by a longer runtime. For the first hour, the viewer gets the impression that the film will be focusing on Megumi’s personal journey – but once Makoto enters the picture, Mugumi’s character seems to regress. Sono’s screenplay employs a framing device involving two detectives investigating a murder and yet the detectives receive little development themselves and only seem present to remind us that, yes, this story is going to end in blood.
As a Westerner, I can’t help but wish I could view the “Guilty of Romance” unedited cut in order to experience Sion Sono’s vision in its entirety. At the same time, I’m content with the movie on this disc. Sono remains one of Japan’s top provocateurs, leaving no taboo unturned as he explores characters at their most psychological extremes. Rather than simply shock for the sake of shock, “Guilty of Romance” delves deep into the human condition; our characters are searching for meaning and fulfillment in an empty, frequently hopeless world. Further enriching the story, Sono makes several references to Franz Kafka’s unfinished literary work “The Castle.”
Wether you’re looking for the next great piece of Asian extreme cinema or merely a pitch-black film that tackles human sexuality and suffering, then “Guilty of Romance” is a title to seek out. The Chinese Blu-ray available from DDDHouse offers very readable English subtitles and stunning picture quality. Sion Sono’s films are rarely what one would call an easy watch but for fans of the more ‘out there’ works of directors like David Lynch and Takashi Miike, Sono’s Hate Trilogy should prove to be essential viewing.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10