The third in Shion Sono’s thematically linked ‘Hate Trilogy’ (following Love Exposure and Cold Fish), Guilty of Romance centres on a female protagonist, Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka), who goes on an intense journey of liberation and destruction through sexual transgression.
Izumi’s transformative adventure is set against the backdrop of a criminal investigation into the murder of beautiful woman who has been mutilated, a number of her body parts swapped with those of a doll and others (including her clitoris) removed completely. Sono’s certainly not a master of subtlety but he does know how to explore a fascinating topic in a provocative and compelling manner.
Stifled by her marriage to a popular writer (played with restraint and poise by Kanj Tsuda), and bored with her monotonous and dull day to day life, Izumi gets one part time job handing out sausage samples and another posing for photos. The former leads to exactly the kind of Carry On-esque innuendos that may be flooding your brain and the latter predictably (this is a Sono film after all) turns into a softcore, then ultimately hardcore, porn shoot.
The coercion of Izumi in the photo shoot to gradually reveal more and more skin until she ends up having sex on camera is a very tricky scene but one that is handled well by Sono. It is also a microcosm of the larger themes explored throughout Guilty of Romance, as Izumi gradually ‘finds herself’ through engaging in sexual activities, often seemingly against her will at first, although the nature of her character makes this consent complex, intriguing and very occasionally troubling.
Surrounding Izumi are those that want to exploit her and also those that seemingly want to free her from her repressed and resolutely patriarchal lifestyle. Izumi is almost certainly intended to be emblematic of a wider picture that Sono sees in Japanese society and even perhaps in the Japanese media, both the AV (Adult Video) Idol scene and the more mainstream film industry.
Filled with fascinating thematic strands, Sono’s conclusion to his loose trilogy is bold and brutal, another compelling and dark tale that fulfils the promise of much of his earlier work. With new attention paid to more restraint in the filmmaking this is one of his most satisfyingly constructed films but still yet another thrilling entry in Sono’s increasingly potent body of work.
Despite the unique visual aesthetic that Sono’s films often have they are never the best looking films in terms of image quality. So whilst the image on this blu-ray is a little on the flat side and mostly unremarkable it is almost certainly still very true to the original source. The audio is likewise a little on the lo-fi side (by modern standards) but still has a reasonable amount of range and no real issues, in terms of imperfections.
The Blu-ray comes with a commentary from respected author Jasper Sharp, who expertly guides the listener through Sono’s career to date before cutting the commentary short approximately twenty minutes before the end. This seems particularly strange as he doesn’t actually talk at too much length about Guilty of Romance itself. It is a fascinating listen regardless and will be of particular interest to anyone new to Sono’s work.
There is also a 38 minute video interview with Megumi Kagurazaka included on the disc. Interviews with actors and actresses included as extras on DVDs and Blu-rays are often unbearably tedious, generally lots of “so and so was so much fun to work with” etc, but this interview bucks this trend and is both insightful and engaging. Kagurazaka talks at length about working with Sono and how he “moulded” and “shaped” her for the film. She also goes into detail about the significance of Kafka’s The Castle in the making of the film,
I was told by the director to read Kafka’s novel The Castle, so I was influenced by that image of the castle in that story. It’s something unattainable, out of reach. I just held onto that feeling.
The interviewer admittedly runs out of steam towards the end but generally his questions are thoughtful and probing and he manages to broach the topic of adult photography and filmmaking in a respectful way, leading to some intersting insights from Kagurazaka.
Unfortunately this release only includes the international cut of the film but Eureka are currently planning on releasing a ‘special edition’ later this year, which will include the longer domestic cut.