“Bonded by Sorrow” follows the tragic life of Yoshikawa, a lonely man struggling to make a living. After seeing his struggles at work, his boss introduces him to a young girl named Yuriko. The two begin a romantic relationship, and it is not long before the two are wed. However, Yoshikawa learns that his wife is cheating on him, which threatens their marriage. Yoshikawa decides that he wants to make the marriage work and makes a romantic offering to make amends. However, the date night turns tragic when Yuriko is murdered by a mysterious figure who claims to be doing the work of a higher power.

Bonded By Sorrow” is screening at
Japan Film Fest Hamburg

The loss of his wife leaves Yoshikawa a wreck, and he seeks out how to find meaning in his life. However, the image of Yuriko keeps popping up in every woman he comes across. Through struggles with the Yakuza, employers and his own sanity, Yoshikawa finds himself stuck in a cyclical nightmare of watching his wife die and resurrect. When he meets one version of Yuriko which is able to better explain her past, Yoshikawa makes a desperate attempt to end the cycle of death.

“Bonded By Sorrow” most notable attribute lies within its absurd style and ability to jump genres while keeping a cohesive style that fans of Yamanouchi will be familiar with. At face value this is an exploitation film, chocked full of erotic scenes and content that embraces uncomfortable subject matter. Unsurprisingly, the content within the film can be pretty graphic and upsetting, even boasting an opening sequence that will unsettle the most die hard exploitation fan. Thankfully, there is more than just shock value, with the film making nice homages to both the horror and science fiction genre. The story also does play as a competent story of loss and the quest for love/revenge. The dramatic elements do offer a needed break before going back into the grotesque

With so many different elements packed into the run-time of just shy of two hours, there is a lot of content to indulge in. However, one of the bigger issues with the film does reside in its identity, as well as the run-time. Shock value has some diminishing returns, and although the film has a lot of moments for fans of the absurd to love, the time it takes does lessen its impact. The mix of genres also exists in contrast to each other, resulting in all the elements suffering slightly. This is most notable in the plot, particularly in the many lives and deaths of Yuriko. The story attempts to explain her existence at the end and it does not match up with the rest of the production, feeling awkward and rushed, which is a frustrating conclusion. The production does feel like it could have been scaled back a fair amount and still maintain the narrative well, while indulging more in the shock value of some of the scenarios it presents.

On a technical level, this is Yamanouchi at his best. The visuals are sharp, and there is a lot of nice cuts to help punctuate the more absurd moments. The erotic scenes feature a lot of close ups that keep them mostly in the realm of the grotesque. Something that which won’t be to most people’s taste, but they are well executed. The film does choose a somewhat murky colour pallet with softens the gorier moments, which is a bit unfortunate. Overall, the choice of color tint compliments that dreary narrative, so although a bit of an eyesore, it can be overlooked in favor of capturing the film’s tone.

The performances are admirable, with Yota Kawase effectively capturing a man’s decent into madness, and Kotomi Asakura keeps a certain innocent charm through each of her iterations as Yuriko. The supporting cast is also great, with some over the top performances that help punctuate the productions absurd moments. Campy performances, when applied, are well timed to create some great dark comedic moments.

“Bounded By Sorrow” captures an interesting point in the career of Yamanouchi. For western audiences, his productions have seen limited release, with the most recognizable title “Red Room” being released in 1999. Although the film brought him some infamy among low budget horror/exploitation fans, it has been a long time since we have been able to see his work, with lots of his work currently resting in obscurity. The film does capture some of the directors charms while offering a few new thrills to his repertoire, it is not however without it’s faults.

Having become a fan of Yamanouchi’s style of extreme, gross out cinema, with entries like “Red Room” and “Muzan-E”, I was very excited for this release. Although the film has enough of his signature style that gained him some minor notoriety, it loses some of the charm of his shorter, less story driven works. It is great to see Yamanouchi work with a bigger budget though, with this production showing that he does have an eye for visual storytelling.

Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of charm to his minimal budget gross out films that is not as present as I would have liked. Overall “Bonded By Sorrow” showcases that Yamanouchi can creatively craft chaos like few others can. However, this has to be my least favorite production from him, mostly due to pacing, but it was still a fun trip full of all sorts of nasty absurdness I will remember for a long time.

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