You cannot possibly expect anything normal from Sion Sono, who is surely one of the most interesting filmmakers working in Japan at present. “Cold Fish” (2010) was a bleak, disturbing psychological thriller about an ordinary family man gradually influenced by a diabolical serial killer he happens to be associated with, and I sort of admired how willingly that movie pushes its hero into the stark pit of evil madness. Although I cringed at many extremely violent scenes in “Why Don’t You Play Hell?” (2013), I could not help but laugh as excited by its manic comic spirit, and that movie remains to be one of the funniest (and bloodiest) movies I have ever watched during recent years.
In case of “Antiporno”, Sono tried another perverted exercise in style. Cheerfully morbid and colorfully stylish, the movie prances from one bizarre moment to another as deliberately disturbing and confusing us during its rather short running time (75 minutes). While I was not very comfortable with its sensational subject, I enjoyed its wild, bold madness surrounding its increasingly neurotic heroine, and you may also enjoy that if you are familiar with Sono’s other works and admire his own no-holds-barred approach.
During its first part, the movie seems to be about a virulent relationship between two different characters. Kyôko (Ami Tomite) is a popular novelist who has been known well for her unorthodox method of creating story and characters, and she does not seem to feel that well as trying to figure out what will be her next novel. Full of self-disgust and repulsion, she wildly bounces around in her apartment alone while heedlessly making supposedly feministic statements during the opening scene, and that further accentuates the stylized reality of the movie, which is mainly represented by the bold color scheme of her apartment and occasional gauzy shots.
It looks like Kyôko wants to write about female freedom this time, and that is certainly ironic considering how she cruelly mistreats her long-suffering assistant Noriko (Mariko Tsutsui). When Noriko comes to Kyôko’s apartment for notifying today’s schedule to her, Kyôko mocks and abuses Noriko a lot just because she can, and Noriko tolerates all these abusive behaviors from her boss while barely maintaining her meek, submissive appearance.
This sadomasochistic relationship of theirs is further explored when there come a bunch of chic female visitors to Kyôko’s apartment, who are going to interview and photograph Kyôko. Kyôko does not hesitate to show more of her cruelty to Noriko in front of them, and these visitors do not mind that at all. In fact, they willingly join her acts of cruelty, and there is a darkly absurd moment when they and Kyôko push Noriko into more humilation as Kyôko finally gets an idea for her new novel.
Around that point, “Antiporno” suddenly shifts itself onto a different situation, so now I advise you not to read further if you want to fully enjoy the movie. Its first 30 minutes turns out to be a part of a softcore film in production, and Kyôko and Noriko’s relationship is presented in a completely different light as they are revealed to be performers playing their respective roles. As the lead actress of the film, Kyôko tries to play her cruel character as believably as possible, but she cannot pull it off well to the frustration of everyone including her, and she is constantly bullied by not only the director but also her co-star Noriko, who could play Kyôko’s character instead considering how mean and uncaring she is to Kyôko in front of others on the set.
As Kyôko becomes more nervous, her state of mind gradually gets unhinged as the line between reality and fiction is blurred along with a series of weird moments. There is a hilariously blatant conversation on sex and pornography among Kyôko and her family, and then there comes a brief disturbing moment involved with Kyôko’s sister, whose fixation on butterflies leads to another odd moment to remember. These moments and other ones in the movie may reflect whatever has been suppressed in Kyôko’s mind, but then it is also possible that the second half of the movie is merely a fiction being written by Kyôko the author.
I must admit that the movie was a little too confusing for me from time to time, but I appreciated its mood and style at least. I was entertained to some degrees as the movie kept going on and on with its wry bad taste till the end, and I was often amused by the ironical use of classical music pieces throughout the film. The movie seems to be spinning its wheels around the ending, but then it jolts us with one hell of excessive moment as we can expect from Sono, and that is certainly a big finishing gesture to behold.
“Antiporno” is a part of the movie project in which Sono and four other prominent male Japanese filmmakers attempt to deconstruct and reconstruct Nikkatsu Roman Porno films, Japanese softcore films made by the Nikkatsu Studios during the 1970-80s. According to the pamphlet of “Antiporno”, the project intends to bring female perspective to softcore films, but I am not so sure about whether the movie is successful in that aspect. While it does work as a send-up and criticism of its subject, the movie still feels as gaudy and sensational as your average softcore film, and that makes me have some reservation on its overall result. Anyway, like Sono’s other works, the movie is something you cannot easily forget after watching it, and I recommend it with caution.