GUILTY OF ROMANCE UK BluRay review
Director Shion Sono is on a roll lately, churning out movies left and right in quick succession which manage to catch the eye, be the talk of festivals and are actually worth your time. Case in point: this year, just a scant few months after the release of "Cold Fish" (and only a scant few months before his release of "Himizu") Sono brought "Guilty of Romance" to festivals worldwide.
Again loosely based upon a true crime event which shocked Japan, "Guilty of Romance" tells a very dark story of people striving to fall into depravity as hard as they can and succeeding at a terrible cost to all involved.
And now Eureka has released this title on BluRay albeit not under their "Masters of Cinema" imprint. Is this edition nevertheless worth watching? Read on!
In a run-down apartment, the police discovers a grisly find: two plastic windowshop mannequins, pieces of which have been replaced by real body parts of a single female corpse. Who was she and what happened? The investigation points to two women who are listed as missing... might the victim be one of them?
From then on flashbacks focus on Izumi, a bored and sexually neglected housewife who tries to spice up her life a bit by looking for a job. Izumi gets spotted by a talent scout for gravure idols and starts modeling, but almost immediately she is coerced into doing nude shoots and pornography. To her surprise she actually enjoys the effect her attractiveness has on men. Izumi starts living a double-life: prim and proper at home with her obsessively clean husband, but an exhibitionist tease in her free time.
Then she meets the enigmatic Mitsuko who leads a double-life as well: an assistant professor by day, she is a low-class prostitute at night. When Mitsuko takes Izumi under her wing things quickly turn very dark and very dangerous indeed...
There are two reasons for watching "Guilty of Romance" which, by themselves, should be enough regardless of any other qualities this film has. I am talking about the performances of the two female leads Megumi Kagurazaka and Makoto Togashi. This film solidly rests on the shoulders of these two actresses and both do excellent and brave work here. Both actresses simmer and create plenty of steam onscreen, despite being different enough to plausibly come from separate planets.
Makoto Togashi looks tomboyish and tall, an effect amplified by the masculine clothes Mitsuko wears in the daytime. But when she cruises the streets at night in gothic make-up she turns into a goddess of depravity, as much a force of nature as Brandon Lee's incarnation of The Crow was (and wearing almost the same facepaint).
In total contrast Megumi Kagurazaka is shorter, plump and all about curves and femininity. Her Izumi is contained and prim, and her first forays into exhibitionism seem obvious, clumsy and forced.
Both actresses completely nail their parts. Just watch Makoto's Mitsuko anxiously trembling while having tea with her mother, or Megumi's Izumi drawing strength and confidence from watching herself naked in a mirror. It is all very strong acting and if I'd have to pick a winner out of the two it would be Megumi Kagurazaka, but only because she has to carry the weight a bit more throughout the entire film. Both actresses stay believable, even when the story gets weirder.
Because it does get weird. According to Sono this is the final film in his "Hate" trilogy, the first two films of which are "Love Exposure" and "Cold Fish", and indeed "Guilty of Romance" feels like it takes place in that same alternate universe. Ironically the crime which starts the film is supposedly one which happened for real (just like with "Cold Fish") but the surrounding story is all Shion Sono's. His view is a pretty dark one and the world as portrayed here is a somber reflection of the real thing. Both coincidence and humanity's tendency to behave evilly are slightly amplified, just so people can manage to go to extraordinary lengths to hurt each other in the worst way possible.
Not that I'm saying the world is an utopia. Thoroughly rotten people do in fact exist and so do dark influences. We've all had cravings and desires ourselves, but would anyone with even half a brain, let alone an intelligent an educated one, follow Mitsuko the way Izumi does? As with most stories where the protagonists ruin themselves through their addiction it is pretty easy for the audience to spot the point where these characters go too far. To keep both Mitsuko and Izumi... maybe not likable but at least relatable, is an accomplishment indeed. Again, kudos to both actresses.
But by now we know Shion Sono has a certain view on how people behave, and this sordid tale fits that view like a glove. Therefore it is a valid question what he exactly wants to tell us with "Guilty of Romance". The same as in "Cold Fish" perhaps, only seen from a feminine viewpoint?
Language itself plays a strong role in this film, with Kafka's "The Castle" being liberally quoted to show all protagonists are trying to reach something that's unobtainable to them, and a Japanese poem about words is almost endlessly repeated to show that communication sometimes just leads to more shared misery.
Thankfully, regardless of the heavy message or leaden story Shion Sono hasn't entirely lost his sense of humor. Seeing the world react to the changes in Izumi is very funny, and the previously mentioned tea conversation with Mitsuko's mother is a masterpiece of jet-black comedy. Inbetween the shocked laughter from the audience I saw this movie with in the cinema, I even got raised thumbs from my friends during this scene (meaning "good choice!").
But while this levity helps with making the film more bearable, the overall picture remains gloom-gloom-gloomy. The world is a vile place where exploitation is the only game worth playing and there is no escape from that. All men are indifferent or weak and all women are out to harm you. Classical music is used for added melancholy and the cinematography focuses on both the sterile boredom of Izumi's home and the chaotic rot of everything else. An inbetween phase were people can be comfortable does not seem to exist in Shion Sono's work: acting civilly is an endless drudge and acting on instict leads to debauchery, exploitation and murder.
It's this limited view which makes "Guilty of Romance" an interesting film but not a classic. Once you know where the film is headed the only mystery remains who the decapitated corpse from the introduction is. And that makes this film in either cut a pretty long one...
Shion Sono is a talented director and "Guilty of Romance" shows it. But the extremity of the story does not seem to have any message behind it beyond that it's a bad world, and that is nothing new. Too serious for entertainment yet too bizarre to be taken too seriously, "Guilty of Romance" would be a drag to watch if not for the truly stellar acting by its two eyecatching female leads. Both Makoto Togashi and Megumi Kagurazaka look splendid (whether nude or non-nude), but it's their performances you will be remembering this film for, not the fact that they showed skin.
And because of them this film is much recommended.
On to the BluRay:
Eureka has released "Guilty of Romance" as a single disc region B coded BluRay.
Let's get the disappointing bits out of the way first: the longer cut shown at Cannes is not here, nor are the excised scenes included anywhere in the extras. We are talking about more than half an hour of footage and while I see the point that the detective subplot does not really affect the main storyline, it is a shame that none of it was available for this edition.
To be honest, it's worth noticing that while "Guilty of Romance" successfully toured the festival circuit months ago already, it only premiered in Japan a mere few weeks ago. Having a longer cut is probably the only angle left for Japanese distributors to get people to see it locally, considering that this cheap HD release is available already from the UK...
Second, while the audio is fine the video is murky and often lacks contrast, although this is probably not Eureka's fault but due to the original materials used, or even by design. Sometimes the image does indeed get sharp and strong enough to distinguish it from a DVD image, but not often. So much of the film takes place at night in poor lighting that this is likely par for the course though.
The last disappointing bit is the fact that this is not a "Masters of Cinema" release (hence no booklet either). Ah well, maybe in the future?
As for extras, the main attraction here is a full-length commentary track by Japanese cinema expert (and walking encyclopaedia) Jasper Sharp. Jasper doesn't just discuss the film but also Shion Sono's other films, Japanese society in general and the actors' careers. He also points out the missing bits where the International Cut differs from the Director's Cut as shown in Cannes. Yeah, rub it in why don't you? It is a quite interesting track but Jasper does not sound like he is very enthusiastic.
As mentioned there are no deleted scenes. What IS included in the extras though is a 40-minute interview with Megumi Kagurazaka, which is interesting: she has intelligent things to say about the directors she worked with, like Noburu Iguchi and Miike Takashi, and she is very candid regarding the adult subject matter and her work as a gravure model. The interview suffers a bit from the fact that the interviewer hadn't been able to see the film yet and was therefore angling for subjects a bit. Megumi's facial expressions during some of the questions are priceless though.
Finishing off the extras is the UK trailer. All in all this is a fine disc for this film and decently priced, but it is a shame that the missing bits from the Director's Cut are, well... nowhere to be found.
You can buy this title through our affiliate:
Link to Eureka's BluRay release of this film.
Guilty of Romance
- Sion Sono
- Sion Sono (screenplay)
- Miki Mizuno
- Makoto Togashi
- Megumi Kagurazaka
- Kazuya Kojima
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