The third in Shion Sono's thematically linked 'Hate Trilogy' (following Love Exposure and Cold Fish), Guilty of Romance centres on on a female protagonist, Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka), who goes on an intense journey of liberation and destruction through sexual transgression.
Izumi's transformative adventure is set against the backdrop of a criminal investigation into the murder of beautiful woman who has been mutilated, a number of her body parts swapped with those of a doll and others (including her clitoris) removed completely. Sono's certainly not a master of subtlety but he does know how to explore a fascinating topic in a provocative and compelling manner.
Stifled by her marriage to a popular writer (played with restraint and poise by Kanj Tsuda), and bored with her monotonous and dull day to day life, Izumi gets one part time job handing out sausage samples and another posing for photos. The former leads to exactly the kind of Carry On-esque innuendos that may be flooding your brain and the latter predictably (this is a Sono film after all) turns into a softcore, then ultimately hardcore, porn shoot.
The coercion of Izumi in the photo shoot to gradually reveal more and more skin until she ends up having sex on camera is a very tricky scene but one that is handled well by Sono. It is also a microcosm of the larger themes explored throughout Guilty of Romance, as Izumi gradually 'finds herself' through engaging in sexual activities, often seemingly against her will at first, although the nature of her character makes this consent complex, intriguing and very occasionally troubling.
Surrounding Izumi are those that want to exploit her and also those that seemingly want to free her from her repressed and resolutely patriarchal lifestyle. Izumi is almost certainly intended to be emblematic of a wider picture that Sono sees in Japanese society and even perhaps in the Japanese media, both the AV (Adult Video) Idol scene and the more mainstream film industry.
Filled with fascinating thematic strands, Sono's conclusion to his loose trilogy is bold and brutal, another compelling and dark tale that fulfils the promise of much of his earlier work. With new attention paid to more restraint in the filmmaking this is one of his most satisfyingly constructed films but still yet another thrilling entry in Sono's increasingly potent body of work.
It's worth noting that the version of the film reaching UK cinemas is the 'international cut', which is roughly thirty minutes shorter than the extended domestic cut.Sono has allegedly stated that he prefers this shorter cut and whilst the scenes cut (mostly surrounding the police investigation and the sex life of the main investigator) do sound intriguing, the shorter cut of Guilty of Romance is lean and far better paced than most other Sono films. Those wanting to see the international cut too are in luck though as this will be included on the UK Blu-ray, out on November the 28th.
Guilty of Romance is released in selected UK cinemas on the 30th of September.