Guilty of Romance (2011)

Loads of explicit sex and misogyny wrapped in this study on sexual degradation and the politics of the (female) body, but wished it was more gripping.  

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dir. Sion Sono
2011 | Japan | Drama/Mystery | 112 mins | 1.85:1 | Japanese
R21 (passed clean)
for explicit sexual content, graphic nudity and disturbing images

Cast: Makoto Togashi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Kazuya Kojima
Plot: Izumi is married to a famous romantic novelist but their life seems just a simple repetition without romance. One day, she decides to follow her desires and accepts to be a naked model that fakes sex in front of the camera. Soon she meets a mentor and starts selling her body to strangers.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
International Sales: Films Boutique

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature/Disturbing
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector
First Published: 16 Aug 2016
Spoilers: No

The films of Sion Sono, a preeminent enfant terrible of contemporary Japanese cinema, don’t get screened in Singapore as readily as they should be, but when they do, it’s worth a pop, even if they aren’t necessary great movies.  

Guilty of Romance fits that bill in what is a film loaded with explicit sex and (what seems like) contentious misogyny, all to the tune of a stylized mystery thriller that satisfies inconsistently. 

Told in a non-linear fashion in Tarantino-esque chapters, Sono’s film follows a woman investigator as she uncovers a gruesome crime scene in a notorious district with ‘love hotels’. 

The investigation is unimportant and takes an unceremonious backseat.  Instead, we plunge head-on into a largely riveting story about a woman’s descent into prostitution, not quite in the Vivre sa vie (1962) sense, but certainly much more depraved and disturbing. 

It starts off slowly, almost too innocuously as Izumi, a shy and innocent wife to an erotic writer of a husband who expresses little intimacy, gets entrapped by a modeling agency to do sensual—and then sexual—photography and videography.  She is played by Megumi Kagurazaka, who is not just Sono’s spouse, but also an adult video star.

Izumi’s spiral into hell is as shocking as her nonchalance towards selling her body to men, and her soul to an older career woman—an inspiring university professor by day, but a nymphomaniacal prostitute by night—whom she meets at her lowest moment, having been raped by a man with a fetish for balls that splatter pink paint. 

We get excellent, daring performances by the two women, who have no qualms baring all of their bodies and engaging in an almost never-ending array of sexual activities. 

Dramatically, Guilty of Romance works to some extent, with several moments of suspense and revelation.  But I wished the entire film was more gripping—it kind of sags in the middle and the pacing could have been tighter.

Sono’s work, part of his ‘Hate’ trilogy that includes Love Exposure (2008) and Cold Fish (2010), is ultimately a study on sexual degradation, reverse-engineered to counter the objectification of women by having their bodies objectified—and commodified—to the extreme, leading to the embracement of feminism through the politics of the (female) body. 

Guilty of Romance treats the act of sex as the final nail in the coffin for men’s lecherous dominance.  For once, or perhaps in Sono’s world—once and for all, the woman has the last laugh.   

Grade: B-



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