Oh my goodness where do I start with this one? Probably with the honest admission that the only reason we went to see GUILTY OF ROMANCE, a title more suggestive of a romcom than the sleazefest it actually is, was because we had read a description of the opening scene, where the apparent remains of two bodies are discovered in a Tokyo love hotel. The parts that have been removed have been replaced by parts of shop window dummies, a lot of pink paint has been splashed about and the word ‘Castle’ has been daubed on the wall. ‘What follows’ said the pre-screening blurb, ‘is a descent into a sexual hell’. So even though its director might be horrified that this could be considered a genre piece there were certainly enough elements to suggest a possible evening of delirious whacked-out cinema. Which is exactly what we got.
After the opening scene we are introduced to Izumi, a meticulously behaved housewife who is married to a bestselling novelist. Every day he leaves the house to go out and write at some undisclosed location, coming back late to compliment her on the precise alignment of his slippers and the correct temperature of his tea as she sits at his feet. The long days of nothing mean, however, that boredom soon sets in, and she gets his permission to get a job selling sausages at a local supermarket. It’s there that she’s approached by a personable young woman who says she can get Izumi work modelling, and before you can say ‘It’s probably not for Vogue’ she’s working in pornography and indulging in multiple random affairs, while feeling intensely liberated from her ‘normal’ life in the process. She meets Mitsuko, a prostitute who in the daytime is a lecturer at a highly respected university and who is obsessed with the works of Kafka, in particular The Castle. Mitsuko’s elderly mother knows all about her double life and during a bizarre tea party tells how her deceased husband also exhibited an unnatural interest in their daughter. Needless to say everything is headed into horribly wrong territory here and after the film spends rather too long procrastinating and over-emphasising the life of a Tokyo prostitute we get a completely insane ending that is going to be appreciated far more by trash film enthusiasts than the art house crowd I suspect this film was made for.
The Guardian has called GUILTY OF ROMANCE an eccentrically confused mess as if that is a bad thing, but we art-house-trash-and-everything-else horror aficionados are well acquainted with movies that don’t make sense, have been thrown together with everyone’s fingers kept crossed behind their backs and of course out and out rubbish. GUILTY OF ROMANCE isn’t any of these but I can’t quite agree with the opinion held by some that director Sion Sono is a genius either. The film veers from the almost Bava-esque opening (mannequins, corpses, bright colours) to a much quieter but engrossing forty-five minutes, after which there is far too much meandering before everything goes completely mental. It’s apparently meant to be part of his ‘hate’ trilogy, but while almost every character in the film is up to things they really shouldn’t be, at no point did I feel myself really disliking any of them. Instead the film conveys a far more ambivalent attitude to the lives these characters have created for themselves. It’s a bit of a misfire and will probably leave some viewers open-mouthed while still being a far more viable option for a night’s viewing than the romantic comedy it most definitely isn’t.