The enfant terrible of contemporary Japanese cinema gives the ‘Roman Porno’ series by Nikkatsu a cheeky middle finger with this ultra-bizarre, pretentiously-feministic meta-film.
Dir. Sion Sono
2016 | Japan | Drama | 76 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
R21 (cut) for explicit sexual content and graphic nudity
Cast: Ami Tomite, Mariko Tsutsui, Asami
Plot: Kyoko is a 21-year-old artist who loves being at the center of attention. One day, feeling down, she lashes out against her assistant, sexually humiliating her in front of the rest of the staff.
International Sales: Nikkatsu
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
First Published: 5 Jul 2017
This review is based on the original, uncut version courtesy of Nikkatsu.
You might have heard of the ‘Roman Porno’ reboot from Nikkatsu, a revival of their soft-core pornographic movies that first proved popular in the early ‘70s to the late ‘80s, and which mandated that there should be a sex scene every ten minutes, among other criteria.
Some of their recent notable efforts include Wet Woman in the Wind (2016), though they also bankrolled Hideo Nakata, the director of Ringu (1998), to make an absolutely meaningless lesbian movie called White Lily.
But Nikkatsu shouldn’t have had to fear the worst when they opted for Sion Sono to conceive a movie for the series. After all, he is a legitimate enfant terrible of contemporary Japanese cinema, often labelled as a misogynistic director whose themes of sex and violence pervade most of his works such as Love Exposure (2008) and Guilty of Romance (2011).
Antiporno is everything that you would expect from Sono, yet, as its title suggests, he pulls the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, turning everything upside-down and inside-out, delivering for Nikkatsu a film that they never would have foreseen—an ultra-bizarre, pretentiously-feministic meta-film that serves as a cheeky middle finger to not just the studio, but its characters, and the audiences they are ‘performing’ for.
A true rebel of cinema, Sono once again proves that given the right amount of creative freedom, an artist can make any kind of film, even one that benefits no one except to make a point about the nihilistic society that we live in.
In this vein, Antiporno works well as a sharp critique on the (Japanese) soft-core pornography industry, even if it extends further into gender politics, in particular exploring the tension between female captivity and freedom.
And how through the construct of the ‘Roman Porno’ movie, we could better understand why ultimately this experiment in performative sexuality, while well-intentioned to be fiercely-feministic, also comes across as pretentious, giving a kind of false power to women.
Set in a room painted in bright colours with minimalist art direction, this psychedelic, acid trip of a film sees Kyoko (Ami Tomite) working out her schedule for the day with her manager Noriko (Mariko Tsutsui).
Sono’s use of colours, and insertions of truly insane scenes of splashing of paint (that briefly recall that of Guilty of Romance), make this a wild eye-opener.
There are also copious amounts of sex and nudity that while titillating us, also make us ashamed of our own complicit, voyeuristic involvement. After all, a film only exists when it is seen… even if (feigned) ignorance is bliss.