Friday, August 5, 2011

MIFF session 12: Guilty of Romance

Two detectives find a bizarrely arranged body in a rainy alley in Tokyo's red light district. What at first looks like the corpse of a murdered prostitute becomes sections of  a woman's body with parts of a mannequin replacing what has been taken from the body. Another corpse, identically arranged is found in a nearby low rent apartment. The two complete a single body ... almost. The head, hands and genitalia have not been recovered.
Izumi is a young housewife who perfects the details of her husband's domestic life. Her constant rearrangement of his house slippers in the moments before his entrance looks like OCD at first but when he comes through the door and inserts his feet into them he congratulates her on their positioning. "You're improving," he tells her. She blushes and bows, delighted. The evening passes from the silence that accompanies his reading, through a sexless marriage bed, to the morning's parting ritual which will be reversed at the end of the day.

He is a writer of popular but trashy sex novels which we see him reading before adoring fans. She is allowed a career at the local supermarket pushing rubbish from the frozen goods section on to listless shoppers (you know her from your own supermarket whenever you politely refuse the satay chilli egg solutions sizzling on the grill as a host of cold ones lie scattered on a paper plate....anyway....) Here she is spotted by a pinku agent who coaxes her into a more lucrative career which occasions what seems to be her life's first orgasm.

Radient (everyone is saying so) with a new taste for the nasty and flavoursome she ventures into the realm of the Love Hotel and there meets a pimp who at first seems to be a street performer and, through him, Mitsuko, a wild and ageing beauty who promises an even more lucrative career than before. These two get on from the word go. Just as she had radiated admiration at her husband's readings she now does as much at her new mentor and friend's daytime work, lecturing in poetry at the local elite university.

The journey from here to the corpse of the opening is intriguing and pacey. As always with a Sion Sono film, for each splash of hedonism we get some extra depth as a counterweight. The everpresent theme of identity returns but here is given new faces as these two women's lives and wishes twine with increasing tightness. Central to this is the notion of women empowering themselves through sexual allure: is it buying in or playing strings?

Sono is often described as a transgressive filmmaker but I think that does him a disservice. As his control over his medium has visibly increased so has his power to metre his content. What once was shock value is now more firmly contextualised and so more powerful  (the violence of this and Cold Fish bear witness). If he was a bad boy once his excesses have led him to become a wise man.

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