“Guilty of Romance” was the film that established Sion Sono as the foremost representative of the genre, surpassing the previous master, Takashi Miike.
The film unfolds in two axes, although without the usual use of flashbacks. The first one, which is loosely based on the 1997 murder of Yasuko Watanabe, takes place in the present. Detective Yoshida investigates a murder incident in Maruyama-cho, a love district in Tokyo, where a dismembered body has been found in an abandoned building. The missing parts have been replaced with the matching ones from a plastic doll.
The second axis, which takes place before the first, focuses on Izumi, a dedicated spouse and housewife, who is married to a famous erotic novelist, Yukio Kikuchi. He spends most of his day outside his home, trying to find inspiration for his books, while she tries to brew the perfect tea for him and to place his slippers the appropriate way. He has given specific instructions for every little thing around the house, and she tries to fulfill his orders scrupulously. Although they declare their love for each other frequently, sex is completely absent from their lives.
Everything changes once Izumi decides to seek employment, as she meets Kaoru and Mitsuko, who eventually get her acquainted with the world of paid sex.
Sion Sono directs and pens a film proving how well he can handle the extreme. His usual tactic of leaving little or nothing to the imagination, finds its peak in “Guilty of Romance”, both in the erotic and the violent scenes. The former are the most exquisite, chiefly due to the physiognomic antithesis of the two main leads: Megumi Kagurazaka, a former gravure idol who plays Izumi is voluptuous, whereas Makoto Togashi, as Mitsuko, borders on anorexic.
His characters, although quite different in their conception, are all exquisite, as much as they are distinctive. In particular, Hisako Ohkata, who plays Mitsuko’s mother, presents one of the most terrifying smiles ever witnessed on screen, and one of the most unconventional family scenes, even for a Sono movie.
Great acting in exploitation fashion
Megumi Kagurazaka as Izumi Kikuchi is highly convincing as the timid, repressed homemaker, who gradually transforms into a prostitute. Expectantly, her character borders on the illogical; she, however, responds to the fullest.
Makoto Togashi as Mitsuko Ozawa has the role of Izumi’s alter ego, both in character and appearance. She is very good in her role, although a bit hyperbolic at times. Her biggest asset lies with the fact that she is convincing in three different roles: as a sex-obsessed prostitute, as a violent pimp and as a well-respected, intelligent teacher.
Miki Mizuno is also quite good as Yoshida, exemplifying the fact that she is intrigued, as much as appalled by the case she has to solve.
Kanji Tsuda as Yukio Kikuchi is great as the “boss” of his wife, managing to emit perversion constantly, despite his “noble” exterior.
The one who steals the show, however, is Hisako Ohkata, as Mitsuko’ mother, in a truly terrifying performance. She manages to emit violence from every pore, which even seems like it will be unleashed eventually, in the most grotesque fashion.
Sohei Tanigawa’s cinematography manages to portray the grotesqueness of the script with the most vivid colors (literally), in a plethora or radically opposite shots that are impressive, as they are extreme. These include a number of very bright settings, as the house of the Kikuchi’s, and very dark, like the various hotels in Maruyama-cho. In that fashion, great work has been done in the lighting department.
Junichi Ito’s editing keeps the film flowing, and the different axes understandable. The special effects are very impressive, particularly in the violent scenes, and the sound heightens the sense Sono wanted to give to each scene.
Obviously, “Guilty of Romance” is not addressed at the mainstream audience. However, as a cult/exploitation film, is one of the best of all time.
“Guilty of Romance” will screen on Five Flavours Film Festival that will be held in Warsaw (November 16 – 23) and Wroclaw (November 18-24).