Judge Paul Pritchard is guilty of larceny, treason, and several other words he doesn't fully understand.
"Don't be trapped by the obscenity of sex, dear."
Dutiful housewife Izumi seeks a break from the monotony of her life, which revolves around tending to the needs of her neglectful husband. Accepting a job at a modeling agency, Izumi soon finds herself immersed in the world of pornography. Though reluctant at first, Izumi finds her new role has a positive effect on her confidence, but with the lowering of her inhibitions come dangerous sexual desires that lead her down the road of infidelity. Encouraged by Mitsuko (Makato Togashi), an academic who prostitutes her body at night, Izumi finds herself frequenting the "Love Hotels" that litter the seedier side of Tokyo, and inadvertently involved in a violent murder case.
The third film in writer-director Shion Sono's "hate" trilogy, Guilty of Romance, offers an example of an exceptional director let down by his own screenplay.
The problems with Guilty of Romance (Region 2) begin around the 30-minute mark, which, coming after such a strong opening, is deflating. Having set up such a grisly and utterly intriguing murder case in the film's opening scene, it is both baffling and infuriating when the case, and thus the entire subplot surrounding Detective Kazuko Yoshida (Miki Mizuno), is then left hanging as nothing but an afterthought. It should be stressed that the Japanese cut of Guilty of Romance adds 40 minutes to the film's runtime, and apparently reinstates much of Kazuko's arc, but as the international cut is the version being released by Eureka, these grumbles must still stand.
Beyond an unfocused narrative, the element most likely to prove off putting for many viewers is the dialogue, which is guilty of being pretentious far too often. The character of Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi) is the biggest culprit in this regard, frequently delivering lengthy monologues that all but the most highbrow of cinephiles will find a chore to sit through; I enjoy good dialogue as much as the next person, but one can only put up with so much self-righteous twaddle. Perhaps such complaints wouldn't be leveled at the film had its cast of characters not all been such slaves to their sexual desires, and thus seemingly hiding their true selves behind fancy words.
So, why am I still going to recommend you view Guilty of Romance (Region 2), despite my problems with the film? Simple. Sono's direction is excellent, and his film is as beautiful as it is sleazy. He perfectly captures the base urges that drive his characters, and Izumi's sexual awakening is made to be both empowering and frightening. The film's sex scenes are a prominent part of Sono's film, and he presents them as cold, almost animal like encounters totally lacking in emotion. As the film draws towards its conclusion the darkness that exists at the heart of the film is brought to the surface in a shocking and distressing fashion. Then there is the murder case that opens the film. Despite it being neglected for long periods, with Kazuko appearing fleetingly, it is impossible to not want to know who the victim is, and in turn the identity of the killer. Admittedly the film's final act goes someway to bringing the narrative back into focus, and as such ensures a strong finale to this uneven, yet impossible-to-ignore picture.
The cast matches Sono's direction stride for stride, with Kagurazaka in particular standing out. While every other character is already complete when we meet them, Izumi is a blank canvas when the film opens. She lives only to serve her husband, who in return coldly scolds her for menial things like buying the wrong soap, and rarely spends time with her. It's understandable, considering her submissive nature, that Izumi would be so easily swayed by stronger characters than herself, and it's to Kagurazaka credit that she is able to project the conflicting emotions Izumi is going through so powerfully.
The film's 1.85:1 transfer is excellent, with a sharp, detailed picture, blessed with deep black levels. What really makes the transfer standout is how well it captures Sono's striking use of color. The stereo soundtrack, which is in Japanese, delivers crisp dialogue, complemented by an understated, though still powerful score.
Along with the film's theatrical trailer, Eureka's release of Guilty of Romance features a commentary track and interview with leading lady, Megumi Kagurazaka. The interview with Kagurazaka discusses her early career, as well as the role of Izumi in more detail. Critic, and festival curator Jasper Sharp delivers a knowledgeable and engaging commentary track, which delivers a good insight into the work of Sono, as well as Japanese cinema in general.
Not for everyone, then, Guilty of Romance moves in rhythms more suited to fans of world cinema than mainstream Hollywood fare. Although flawed, this is not a film that's easy to ignore or take one's eyes from.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
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