Guilty of Romance (Koi No Tsumi): Cannes 2011 Review

CANNES – Guilty of Romance (Koi No Tsumi), the third part of cult filmmaker Sion Sono’s “Hate” trilogy (Love Exposure, Cold Fish), ends with a bang. Actually, with many bangs, in this overlong, overtly erotic finale to the writer-director’s psychosexual, pseudo-feminist musings on contemporary Japan. Despite all the blood and boobs, the auteurist Pink Film hysteria wears itself out, and following a Directors’ Fortnight bow viewers will consist mainly of loyal fans and other guilty pleasure hounds.

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The print screened at Cannes is an extended 145-minute version, which Sono will shave down by a half hour for international release. How such changes could help attract a wider audience remains questionable for a film that tosses out some intriguing ideas early on, and then gets progressively muddled in a twisted mix of prostitution, fetishism, offbeat literary musings (Kafka and coitus, anyone?) and melodramatic screaming matches.

At the center of the intrigue is a busty housewife, Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka, lifted from a Russ Meyer movie), who’s submissive marriage to a bestselling erotica novelist (Kandji Tsuda) prompts her to unleash her own sexual inhibitions. What starts with a very un-innocent photo shoot quickly spirals, through Izumi’s encounter with a nymphomaniac professor, Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi), into a series of increasingly transgressive copulating throughout one of Tokyo’s Love Hotel districts.

A parallel narrative that never fully asserts itself follows a detective (Miki Mizuno) with her own bedroom issues, who comes across a gruesome, Saw-style mutilation in a compelling opening scene. Her investigations are intercut with flashbacks of Izumi’s downward slide into streetwalking, as the murder mystery criss-crosses with some freaky lovemaking (one involving a character pegging pink paint balloons at a naked call girl), and Mitsuko’s philosophical rants on the world’s oldest trade (“When you have sex for money, everything suddenly comes into focus.”).

Although the film’s dark humor and colorful, thriller aesthetics provide some juicy material at the beginning, its overindulgence in chatter, fornication and occasional gore feels too blatant to make Sono’s social commentary run anywhere but skin-deep.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight, (Special Screening)
Production companies: Django-Film, Nikkatsu Studio, King Record Co., Ltd.
Cast: Megumi Kagurazaka, Miki Mizuno, Makoto Togashi, Kandji Tsuda, Ryo Iwamatsu, Ryuju Kobayashi
Director: Sion Sono
Screenwriter: Sion Sono, based on an original idea by Mizue Kunizane
Producers: Yoashinori Chiba, Nobuhiro Iizuka
Director of photography: Sohei Tanigawa
Set designers: Yoshio Yamada, Akihiro Nakamura
Costume designer: Chiyoe Hakamata
Editor: Junichi Ito
Sales Agent: Films Boutique
No rating, 145 minutes

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