Sono Sion’s Guilty of Romance (2011)

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A terrible murder has occurred in the love hotel district of Maruyama-cho, Shibuya (Tokyo). A woman’s dismembered body and creatively rearranged with that of a mannequin. The police is investigating the case.
Izumi (Kagurazaka Megumi) is a devout wife and the picture girl for housewives in the 1950s. Unfortunately it’s the 1990s and Izumi, who’s turning 30, would like to do something with her life. Anything really, that doesn’t involve only thinking about her husband (Tsuda Kanji) Yukio’s slippers and marseille soap all day. Yukio is a famous novelist who’s never home. He treats her wife like a maid and doesn’t really seem to love or care about her. Out of boredom Izumi decides to take a job cooking sausage samples in a local supermarket. One day a costumer notices her and asks her if she wants to become a model. Turns out the new job involves more than just posing naked. At first Izumi seems to be finally taking control of her life, but then everything spirals down in a vortex of sex, prostitution and water balloons filled with pink paint. 

Sono Sion’s Guilty of Romance (original title: Koi no Tsumi) is a deep philosophical and poetic giallo-esque drama. There is much more under the surface than what you might pick up on a first viewing. It is a multi-layered film with a beautiful message, strong acting and a sly score that creeps under your skin, infiltrates your mind and doesn’t let go. The film openly references Franz Kafka‘s last and unfinished novel Das Schloss (The Castle). The way Sion’s characters interpret Kafka’s story about a man hopelessly trying to find the castle in a strange town, is that we are all searching for something. Everyone has their own castle. What is it? The meaning of life? Love? When and how do we know if we ever found the castle? Can we ever find the castle? Is there a castle? Ironically (or not) Kafka never finished his novel. Is that perfection? A lot of unanswered questions. The film’s story remains somewhat unresolved as well. Why exactly was Izumi killed? What does the last shot mean? I don’t know.

Another prominent idea pursued by the film is the meaning of words. The subject is introduced when Izumi meets a literature professor/prostitute quoting Tamura Ryūichi‘s poem On my way Home. “I should never have learned words / how much better off I’d be / if I lived in a world / where meanings didn’t matter, / the world with no words” the first recites. Words always signify something. Words should always be something concrete, tangible. What if they’re not? Then they mean nothing, like the words in Yukio’s books. The prostitute lives in a world where words mean something and have consequences. Yukio’s words are empty, he doesn’t live what he writes. His words mean nothing, by default he means nothing. I’m not sure how well I understood this concept and it’s difficult to explain and put into words. The first time I watched the film I also thought of the power words have. In the Bible God creates the world by using his words. What’s more powerful than that image?

On a visual level Guilty of Romance is a stunning, thrilling, blast of neon lights and bright colors when they are in the love hotel district. At home, the colors are monotonous, brownish, sad and while they’re also more “real” there is no doubt that they’re boring far from exciting. Izumi’s slow and gradual descent into prostitution is portrayed in a credible, non judgmental way and without winking at the audience (like “Yeah, we know this is outrageous and these are despicable people”). The film has been accused of being misogynistic, I’m afraid to say those people completely missed the point and didn’t even understand the film on a surface level. There is much more at stake here than gender discussions and female portrayals. Sion doesn’t need to justify his choices, he doesn’t need to explain to the audience how he feels about certain issues, he sees beyond that and is just not interested in such boring statements.

Moving on, I did have some issues with structural storytelling elements, namely editing choices. The whole recurring subplot with the police investigating ruined the film’s pacing and wasn’t as interesting as the main story itself.Overall though, I think this is one of Sion’s best films, though Love Exposure remains his masterpiece and Cold Fish is more enjoyable on a purely visceral level. Guilty of Romance‘s strengths are undoubtedly the direction, the script and the stellar acting performances by everyone, even the smallest characters did a spectacular job, not a single dull or predictable performance. Kagurazaka Megumi stands out as the lead and her performance should be remembered as one of the best of 2011. I also particularly enjoyed watching Kobayashi Ryûju as the crazy pimp laughing like crazy and throwing around pink paint, Togashi Makoto as the Izumi’s “mentor” and Uchida Chika as the foxy faux modeling casting agent. My imaginary fedora’s off to Sion who always writes the most lovable characters, even when they’re more than a little unsavory.

Rating on Second Viewing
(on my laptop)
8.5 out of 10

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10 comments

    • davideperretta

      🙂 No, come on, don’t underestimate yourself!
      It’s not an easy film granted and I’m not even sure I fully “get it”, but it’s so damn enjoyable. It’s one of those you can revisit and find out new things, understand a little bit more. I tend to prefer this kinds of movies, it’s like a challenge!

      • thomasjford

        Do you know what, I don’t know if it’s to do with getting older, or having a child, but my days of wanting to watch deep and meaningful things are over. I don’t mean I just want to watch Hollywood blockbusters but I like a film that I can sit down and watch after a long day an not think too much about!

      • davideperretta

        Interesting! I’ve heard other people saying that as well, I guess we’re constantly evolving as film goers and people. Naturally our tastes and what we watch changes. At different stages of my life I’ve watched different kinds movies for different reasons, that’s why there’s such a great variety of films. That’s also the beauty of it.

      • thomasjford

        I think as we get older we become more cynical and less receptive to new things and wanting to know new things. It’s a battle to stay in tune with culture, that’s why I always make sure I keep up with new bands, movies and social media etc otherwise you get left behind!

      • davideperretta

        Yes, age also tends to solidify and accentuate character traits. Like you I always worry that I get left behind, but I think the fact that we’re aware of this “risk” helps us. In a way we decide if we want to be “up to date” or not.

  1. christiestratos

    I love films that have multiple layers and are loaded with symbolism. This sounds like it would be right up my alley, but based on your description, I would probably also become irritated about the police investigation parts – I find it’s actually much more difficult than people think to work that into an artistic film both creatively and in a satisfying way that doesn’t interfere too much.

    • davideperretta

      Nice, I hope you like it. Yeah, there investigation subplot is secondary and doesn’t take up too much time, so they could have just left it out. Maybe that’s just us though 🙂

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