December 27, 2011 – 4:43 am

In Sion Sono’s Guilty Of Romance, the dreams of an everyday bored housewife turn to dust when she becomes sexually liberated and ends up as a street hooker and involved in a bizarre murder. Stephen Tan reviews.

Alerted by a call from the public, Detective Yoshida arrives at a derelict building in the red light district in Tokyo and finds a mannequin fitted with various human body parts. However, the head remains missing.

Bored housewife Izumi Kikuchi is married to writer Yukio whom she dutifully serves. It’s a monotonous existence and there doesn’t seem to be any sex between the couple. In the morning, she ensures that his slippers are properly placed on his side of the bed; before he leaves for work, she hands him his shoe horn; and her last duty for the morning is to place the slippers at the door for her husband’s return in the evening. At night, she has to prepare that perfect cup of tea for her husband. However, there is a sense of pride in marrying well when Izumi attends a public reading by her husband.

Still, Izumi suffers from insomnia and she writes in her diary: “I will stop writing when I can sleep at night.” In her heart, Izumi wants to achieve something before she reaches 30. Working as a sales promoter at a department store, she is spotted by Eri from a modelling agency.

Her work at the department stores seems to relax Izumi and Yukio notices the change. Coming out of the bathroom one day, he tells her: “You haven’t seen my body recently, have you?” He removes his bathrobe and says: “You can touch my penis if you like,” which she does with relish.

Izumi later takes up Eri’s offer of a modelling job. At the photo shoot, Izumi finds that it’s not just clothes she models and ends up doing a softporn shoot. Later taking a bath, her co-star approaches and fingers her in the bath.

The modelling job is somewhat sexually liberating for Izumi and, appearing nude before a full-length mirror at home, she tries out her sales pitch from the department store. Meanwhile, Izumi graduates to hardcore shoots at the modelling agency. With growing confidence and a freed libido, unable to control herself, Izumi even ends up having sex with one of the customers at the department store.

Out on the streets, Izumi meets a young man, Kaoru. After having sex at a love motel, Kaoru ties Izumi up and gets her to call her husband as he enters her from behind. Feeling dejected leaving the motel, Izumi meets street hooker Mitsuko, who shows some compassion for her. Izumi then follows Mitsuko into a derelict building and sees Mitsuko removing her clothes and opening her arms to her.

Mitsuko suggests that Izumi work for Kaoru, who is a pimp. She also explains her philosophy on sex to Izumi: “Make him pay if there’s no love!” Mitsuko, who is a literature lecturer at the university, then invites Izumi to attend her lecture. After the lecture, both Izumi and Mitsuko go for a drink, at which time Mitsuko changes her clothes and appearance and turns into a street hooker.

Izumi then follows Mitsuko as she picks up two clients and enters the derelict building. While Mitsuko is having sex with one of the men, the other man, thinking that Izumi is a prostitute, comes into her. Before leaving, one of the men throws the money on the floor after being threatened by Mitsuko. Mitsuko tells Izumi to pick up the money: “All this! You earned all of it with your body!.. Now the words ‘Izumi Kikuchi’ has conceived a meaning!” She also adds: “You… make sure you fall all the way. Down to my depth!”

Izumi later joins Mitsuko and becomes one of Kaoru’s girls. One night, Mitsuko goes out to service a client and Koaru and Izumi later show up at the apartment. There, Izumi learns that the client is her husband, who is into S&M, whom Mitsuko regularly services - he gets his inspiration for his erotic romance novels when Mitsuko “strangles” him.

Shocked by what she sees and hears, Izumi jumps on Yukio and has sex with him. Later, Mitsuko, Kaoru and a trumatised Izumi return to the derelict building but it is Mitsuko who regresses and tells Izumi that her father had sexually abused her when she was young. In her revelry, she calls Izumi “pathetic” who, in anger, lashes out at Mitsuko. At that moment, Mitsuko’s mother, who has been shadowing Mitsuko, shows up and urges Izumi to strangle her daughter.

Later, Mitsuko’s mother contacts the police and shows Detective Yoshida Mitsuko’s decapitated head and genitalia which she had kept. She explained that she needed to kill Mitsuko to stop the “bad seed” which her philandering husband had generated. Izumi is later shown soliciting at the docks and getting beaten up by the men.

Director Sion Sono is probably best known for Suicide Club (2001) and, since then, built up a name for himself as a cult filmmaker with films such as Strange Circus (2005) and Cold Fish (2010). In Guilty Of Romance (2011), Sion Sono has concocted a variation of Strange Circus (where a young girl, also called Mitsuko, is sexually abused by her school principal father, all the while witnessed by the young girl’s mother).

In Strange Circus, the question asked: Shouldn’t the mother equally be blamed? But in Guilty Of Romance, it is: what if the daughter, who is grown up now with a damaged psyche, picks on a victim and then drags her to hell?

While Cold Fish, with its graphic violence, is more harrowing, Guilty Of Romance is not a splatterfest. The music and script (which references Kafka and The Castle) - the latter made more literate by the characters reading poetry - gives Guilty Of Romance a certain rarefied European air but the film only manages to show how people do have a hidden or secret side.

Sure, Mitsuko is fucking Izumi’s husband but why pick on Izumi as a victim? (After all, it does appear that the meeting between the two is accidental.) At the end of the movie, no one is any wiser why Mitsuko picked on Izumi other than that she is a malleable victim?

Izumi’s story arc, on the other hand, is better presented. Fearing a dead-end existence, one can understand Izumi’s need to be something more. And once she is sexually liberated, a whole new world opens up for her. Still, it is difficult to understand why her husband picks up prostitutes when his wife is so willing in bed (if given the chance). That she is also so well endowed is probably a moot point for him in neglecting his wife.

But what Guilty Of Romance shares most with Cold Fish is how predatory some people can be. In Cold Fish, when store manager Yukio sees a man can be bullied, he goes in for the kill, and makes the man a hostage to his killings. Similarly, in Guilty Of Romance, Mitsuko soon has Izumi under her clutches.

But unlike Cold Fish with his streak of black humour, there is no such redeeming feature in Guilty Of Romance. It’s ironical that the film’s title reads like a title of a Mills & Boons romantic novel and one ends the film with a weary numbness probably not unlike the one experienced by Detective Yoshida - an elderly woman calmly shows you her daughter’s body parts and tells you the dead woman’s sexual misdeeds; and then the housewife-turned-hooker beaten up and lost in the miasma of her hopes and broken dreams.

Note: The Guilty Of Romance DVD (Eureka Entertainment) is banned in $ingapore.

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