Movies We Like
Guilty of Romance
Whenever you find a film that is based on actual events or someone's life, with the exclusion of biopics, I highly recommend giving it your time. It's similar to the interest piqued from a movie based on a book you find yourself drawn to, but much more involving. This is perhaps due to - and heightened by - the interest from the director. To consider that there is someone's story out there that captivates a filmmaker to the point that they are willing to spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars funding a work that will tell this story the way they imagine it in their mind after (hopefully) researching the events leading to it is, in all seriousness, a wonderful thing. Of course, the director needs to be someone you trust to tell this story—and what better example than Shion Sono and the grizzly tale of a woman on the brink of sexual discovery in a repressed society that can and will eat the faint at heart for breakfast.
Opening with “On the eve of the 21st century...,” Guilty of Romance takes off at a hurried run as a detective (Miki Mitzuno) stumbles upon a bizarre crime that would rattle even the most experienced among her profession. The remains of a woman are found in various locations known for being the playground of anyone keen on prancing through the erotic underworld. The fact that a murder took place there isn't necessarily jarring. The fact that the remains were partial and attached to a mannequin dressed like a schoolgirl was.
Switching gears, the film is then broken into several chapters that, without being explained, must have obviously led to the crime—starting with our troubled heroine, Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka). Izumi is the perfect wife—keen on pleasing her husband (Satoshi Nikaido), who happens to be a renowned author in Japan. This pleasure is more along the lines of keeping an immaculate household and knowing all the subtleties that keep him content, with the exception of sex. Attempting to do something exciting before turning 30, she decides to look for a day job and, in a turn of events, is discovered by a modeling agency that wishes to exploit her pretty face and wanton body.
Though this goes against her rigid moral codes, she discovers that by loving and exposing her body to others she gains confidence and a glow that even her disenchanted husband notices. Here she thinks she has found that special something to catapult her dull life into something worthwhile. However, this newfound and late-in-the-game attention to her sexuality and personal happiness causes her to come unhinged. Before long she is involved with several unsavory characters and situations that are both exciting and horrifying.
In comes Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi), a screwy (no pun intended) and well-to-do professor by day who, by night, turns into a bottom level prostitute in the seedy love district. Her version of a sexual revolution is simple: make them pay if there is no love.
What seems like a kindred spirit for Izumi and a friend with whom to share her newfound pleasures quickly becomes Izumi's maniacal general in the battle of the sexes. But will Izumi discover that she is cannon fodder before it's too late, and which of these two troubled ladies will become the partial corpse that we were introduced to at the film's beginning?
The one major critique against the film, for those who walked away from it unsatisfied, is its pace, which does go against the vein in terms of your typical thriller. However, it is this quality that sets Sono's work, including Guilty of Romance, apart from the others. In attempts to make you care for and understand these pitiful people, Sono weaves in dreamy flashbacks, long real-time conversations, and sharp edits that instill a feeling of suspense that is more subjective to each viewer and, I would argue, more effective. For instance, a married woman could feel the most tension during the Izumi chapter, while the middle-aged and unattached woman might feel most involved with Mitsuko. While we're on the topic of women, I didn't find much in the film that could stimulate your average male in terms of a thriller. There's hardly any gore and sex is a far cry from the '90s eroticism in the thrillers we're used to—as seen in movies like Color of the Night, Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. As a woman, this very much came across as a thriller for women in the sense that, as the title suggest, it is a film about women who believed in the magic of romance to the point that their naivety led them to be damned. A drastic conclusion, but aren't all thrillers a bit of a stretch?
The segment of the film surrounding the character of Mitsuko is heavily based on the unsolved murder of Yasuko Wantanabe, a well-to-do economics laureate and senior researcher who attended the same prestigious university as her father (as is the case in the film), and also chose to moonlight as a prostitute as a hobby or, at the very least, a social experiment. For those familiar with Sono's work, the most popular being Love Exposure and Suicide Club, Guilty of Romance offers something special that can't quite be placed. I'd argue that it's more tender than these other works and, despite the other critique (that Sono can't seem to escape the psychosexual portrait), it is a work so pulsating and colorful that aside from the plot it is also a feast for the eyes that is easy to digest. I recommend it to those who like their nightmares on the upper level of the scale when it comes to the surreal.