The third and final part of Sion Sono's so-called Hate Trilogy (preceded by the film's Love Exposure and then Cold Fish, both of which are definitely recommended for fans of this director's outsider filmography), 2011's Guilty of Romance debuts on Blu-ray in North America for the first time thanks to Olive Films.
When the film begins, a Tokyo based police detective named Kazuko Yoshida (Miki Mizuno) finds the body of a murder victim in a shabby inner-city hotel. As such, she starts his investigation which basically serves as the framework for the film wherein, through the magic of flashbacks, we learn about a women named Izumi Kikuchi (Megumi Kagurazaka, familiar to the director's fans for her work in the aforementioned Cold Fish). She is a beautiful young woman with a healthy sexual appetite that her husband, a romance author named Yukio (Kanji Tsuda), doesn't seem interested in satiating. She dreams of passionate encounters with him but he shows almost no interest which understandably causes her some frustration. When she takes a part time job in a supermarket and is approached by a complete stranger with an offer to model for him, she accepts. On the day of the shoot, events take an unusual turn when the photo shoot turns into a porno movie shoot. Undeterred, Izumi goes along with it and is surprised to find how much she enjoys the experience.
This leads to an encounter between Izumi and Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi), a woman who spends her days as a respected university professor but who gets her kicks walking the streets as a common whore when the sun goes down. Mitsuko encourages Izumi to work as a prostitute herself and she does, though she is very selective with her clients. All of this is going on without her husband suspecting a thing and as Mitsuko basically teaches her the ropes of how to make the most of her new nighttime endeavors, Izumi is drawn further into the Tokyo underworld and as this happens, things become increasingly dangerous for all involved.
Those familiar with Sion Sono's output know that he's not a director particularly concerned with social mores or with delivering traditionally respectable content. His films frequently deal in the darker side of life and offer up healthy doses of sex, violence and all manner of perversion. Guilty Of Romance continues that tradition but, like many of the films that came before it, there's more here than just couplings and carnage. As he takes us on this downward spiral, Sono forces us to confront some potentially uncomfortable issues in regards to the way in which the women in the film use their sexuality to deal with the various male characters that populate the film alongside them. Is Izumi's choice to act in a porn film and turn tricks at night an act of revenge to get back at the husband who puts passionate words to paper but fails to give her the attention she wants and deserves or is this a way of empowering herself and taking back what he's shown no interest in? Is she selling her body for is she simply doing what she needs to do to satisfy herself? The same questions apply to Mitsuko, an atypical prostitute in that she is a well-educated and intelligent woman. Neither she nor Izumi are the type of women who themselves in dire straits wherein they need to resort to prostitution to survive. The film makes it very clear that they do this of their own choosing and it wisely leaves some of the reasoning for those choices up to the viewer to decide and think on.
All of this is shot with an interesting eye for both color scheme and composition, resulting in a swirling rash of primary hues that somehow filter through an adherence to noirish style. The film is a visual treat, at times simultaneously repulsive in what it depicts but compelling and even beautiful in how it depicts it. At the center of all of this are some remarkably bold and uninhibited performances. The film is fairly graphic in its depictions of sexuality so it stands to reason that this would be a requirement but both Makoto Togashi and Megumi Kagurazaka are pretty brazen in how they depict what their respective characters are put through, willingly or not. All of this is set to a stirring soundtrack made up almost entirely of some remarkably moving classical pieces which only serves to further strengthen the emotional content behind the plots multiple twists and turns. It's a challenging film and not one for all tastes. You need to go into this one with an open mind and the ability to accept some of the more extreme set pieces that Sono depicts in his typically unflinching manner. If you can do that, however, there's a lot to absorb and think about once the end credits start to roll.
Note that this release of Guilty Of Romance includes both the edited International Cut (running an hour and fifty-four minutes) of the movie as well as the longer full-strength Japanese Cut (running two hours and twenty-five minutes) of the film.The Blu-ray:
Both versions of Guilty Of Romance included on this BD50 are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The longer cut shows a few minor compression artifacts in the darker scenes that aren't in the shorter cut but outside of that any differences are negligible and even those artifacts are really minor. As to the quality of the picture itself, it's good but never outstanding. Colors are reproduced rather well but the image is a little soft and a little flat when it comes to fine detail. As the movie was shot on digital video it stands to reason that the picture would be pristine, and it is, and this is certainly well above what standard definition could offer but it never reaches that sort of mind blowing detail you want on a Blu-ray. This looks to have more to do with the shooting style employed than the transfer, and it would appear that the picture quality here is pretty true to source in that regard. There are no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement and skin tones appear appropriately warm. This is not bad by any stretch.Sound:
Regardless of which version of the movie you choose you'll find a Japanese language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track with forced white English subtitles. There's good depth here and decent front channel separation to help build some atmosphere and mood. The dialogue is clear and properly balanced and the score sounds nice and can be quite moving at times. There are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion and the levels are set appropriately to ensure clarity throughout the mix.Extras:
Aside from the two versions of the film, there are no extras on the disc outside of menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Guilty Of Romance is a twisted film to be sure, but for those with a taste for more adventurous cinema, it's also quite rewarding. It doesn't offer any easy answers to the questions that it poses and for that reason it's likely to alienate a lot of viewers but once you get pulled in, it's a visually arresting and remarkably challenging picture. Olive's Blu-ray release skimps on extras but is to be commended for including the longer cut of the film and offering up both it and the shorter version in nice quality. Recommended.