This was the second film from Japanese director Sion Sono at this year’s MIFF (the other was “Cold Fish”) and man, was it a disappointment. The film starts well enough with a female detective examining the scene of a brutal homicide. A young woman has been cut into pieces, with her missing pieces replaced by those of a mannequin. Although the identity of the woman is unknown, it is assumed that she was a prostitute because her body was found in an area of town famous for its prostitution.
From here we go back in time and follow the lives of two women, one a frustrated wife of a famous novelist, and the other, a university professor, as their lives intersect and we watch their descent into the sex trade. We initially follow Izumi, the novelist’s wife, whose life consists of only serving her husband. She has a set routine each day, which has to be precise to the minute, consisting of setting her husband’s slippers up exactly right, cleaning the house, making a cup of tea to his specifications to be ready when he returns from work, and then making dinner. The couple also has a limited sex life, but only happens when he wants or needs it. One day she decides that she wants to work to fill a part of her day, an idea her husband responds to, and she soon begins work at a supermarket. It is at this supermarket where she ends up meeting an agent for a modeling company. The woman tells Izumi that she is stunning and asks her to model for them which she agrees to. When she gets to the studio she finds out that the company actually shoots their models nude and gets them to participate in soft-core porn shoots. Izumi is taken aback by all of this, and although it takes some convincing, she ultimately agrees to it, and it is this that sets something off inside of her and begins to breakaway at her sexual repression. From here on, she continues to become more and more sexual, while at the same time pretending to her husband that she is the same as she has always been. Her path ultimately leads to prostitution which she begins to participate in, and one night she meets Mitsuko, who decides to take Izumi under her wing and show her the ropes. Her one rule regarding sex is “if you don’t love them, make them pay”. It turns out that Mitsuko is actually a university professor during the day, and we then learn how she became what she is during the night. We know that one of these girls will be killed, but which one and why, you will have to watch the film yourself to find out.
Right up front I want to point out that the version of “Guilty Of Romance” that screened at MIFF was the 112 minute “international version”. The full Japanese version actually runs 143 minutes, and with a difference of a half an hour, you would assume that that version to be an almost completely different film. I’m assuming the detective character would play more of a role in this version, and I hope that it explains the sudden disappearance of one character near the end of the film. However the version I did see did not impress me much and was quite the disappointment. I’m starting to think that Sion Sono is a sloppy filmmaker, maybe that is a bad word, he just isn’t as polished as someone like Takashi Miike, with whom he is often compared to. Visually he is a little messy and unfortunately “Guilty Of Romance” was filmed digitally instead of on film, and it just doesn’t look very good at all, especially because the majority of the film plays at night.
Story-wise, the film starts strong, but the longer it goes on, the more ridiculous it gets, and I found myself caring little for it. The final reveal of who was murdered and who the murderer is, and importantly why they were killed, is a huge let-down and a little muddled. The killer’s motivation for the crime is a little confusing and does not end the film on a high note at all.
Something I think Sion Sono needs to pay more attention to is the performances from his actors, as he often lets them fall into the trap of over-acting. This was a problem with “Cold Fish” and it is again here, as performances are all over the place, with only Megumi Kagurazaka as Izumi (she was also in “Cold Fish” and in Sono’s forthcoming “Himizu”) coming out in a good light. She portrays the uptight wife of the novelist brilliantly, and is equally as good when she becomes the sexually liberated girl in the second half. She also handles some good dramatic moments near the end with great honesty. Other than her, the rest of the performances seem overly theatrical, to the point that most of the characters appear to be caricatures. The mother of the professor is particularly bad.
Unfortunately, “Guilty Of Romance” let me down dramatically, but I am still interested in seeing the longer Japanese cut which will be released on blu-ray in the UK in around a month’s time. However, this “international cut” left me unimpressed.