Archive for the ‘Sion Sono’ Category



August 22, 2015

Tag (Real onigokko) (2015)

Sion Sono kills more high school girls than a medium size natural disaster in this often energetic and amusingly over-the-top, but uneven horror film. The story is loosely based on the popular manhunt franchise by Yusuke Yamada (already adapted into 5 other movies and two series), in which a man named Sato finds himself a parallel universe where all people named Sato have been ordered to be captured or executed on spot by killers hired by the government. Sono, however, goes his own way with not a single Sato to be found in the film, and brings the film closer to his own Suicide Club and certain David Lynch twists than Yamada’s straight-forward dystopias. In Sono’s film Japanese high school girls find themselves targeted by someone – or something – that starts slaughtered them in epic fashion.

Tag is bound to anger the more sensitive viewers with its endless schoolgirl splatter, although it also offers quite an interesting commentary and criticism on the Japanese schoolgirl phenomena. In one of the key lines the protagonist utters “stop playing with us [high school girls]” which is clearly aimed at not only characters but viewers as well. Indeed, a notable part of Japanese entertainment industry from family movies to music industry and adult videos is built on the popularity of school girls. That being said, most of the criticism here is probably more comparable with the anti-violence message in Death Wish 3 than anything else, and even the amount of panty shots Sono inserts in the film roughly equals to the number of punks killed by Charles Bronson in Death Wish 3.

The all female cast – there isn’t even a single male seen during the first 70 minutes – is solid as well. Sono is consistently good with young actresses, bringing the best out of them in nearly every film he makes. The handsome heart knob Takumi Saito appears in the film’s only notable male role – a nice shock aimed his Japanese female fans who know nothing about his involvement in racy pictures like this; and indeed, he’s not even credited in the advertising materials or in the end credits.

Like many recent Sono films, Tag suffers from some lame and distracting CGI effects. However, the film also features some nice practical gore courtesy of Yoshihiro Nishimura, and fantastic camerawork with lots of aerial shots done with drones. There’s also a pretty atmospheric score by composed by Takaakira Goto, the lead guitarist for the instrumental rock band MONO. The film’s official “image song” by Glim Spanky doesn’t seem to be in the film at all – and all the better for it. It was used for na on-demand mini-series released online around the same time as the film, featuring three episodes directed by Hajime Ohata (Henge), Eisuke Naito (Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club) and Kayoko Asakura (It’s a Beautiful Day).


Why Don’t You Play in Hell

October 9, 2013

Sono’s cinema tribute is fun until it becomes a childish CGI fest

Jigoku de naze warui (2013)

Sion Sono has spent the last few years directing uneven dramas. Why Don’t You Play in Hell marks a return to energetic pop cinema. The film, based on a 17 year old screenplay, is a madcap celebration of cinema, until the ending goes down the sewer in a CGI packed finale that contributes to the destruction of real action cinema.

The 130 minute film packs a rather thrilling selection of characters, including yakuza boss keen on making her daughter a film star, and a passionate amateur film crew The Fuck Bombers who take on the challenge to film an all time action film with yakuzas whacking each other off for real in front of camera.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell best compares to Love Exposure in Sono’s filmography. The first half is a blast. The director throws in violence, romance, yakuzas, and samples a thrilling music selection like Tarantino in his best days. Casting features some standouts as well. The recently retired action star Tak Sakaguchi is spot on as a Japanese Bruce Lee wanna-be, and Himizu star Fumi Nikaido steals the show as a yakuza daughter tough girl.

Sono fans will also recognize the fictional movie-within-the-movie “The Blood of the Wolves” as Sono and Sakaguchi’s real life attempt at creating an ultimate samurai action movie. The film was in production for years, and parts of it were apparently filmed in 2012, but it seems unlikely the film will be competed anytime soon, if ever.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell, unfortunately, won’t make Sono and Sakaguchi’s dream project. Sono’s masterpieces Suicide Club (2001), Hazard (2005), Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005) and Love Exposure (2008) all mix wild entertainment, poetic cinema and poignant commentary, making relatively harmonic films. Not so with Why Don’t You Play in Hell, which certainly is loud, but eventually lacks meaning and heart. Some of the music is also recycled from old Sono films, and the pacing goes off before half-way.

The real deal breaker is the climax – an all out massacre executed mostly in awful video game CGI. The computer gore is despicable anti-cinema that ought to entertain 12 year olds – a statement seemingly agreed by Japan’s film censorship office Eirin who rated the film pg-12.

Sono has described his (digitally shot) film as a love letter to the disappearing 35 mm film. In the film’s nostalgic movie theatre scene an old projectionist (the ever so charismatic Mickey Curtis) plays Sono’s 1992 film The Room and introduces the kids to the magic genuine celluloid cinema. It’s a shame 60 minutes later Sono goes crazy with video game CGI – the second death knell to real cinema – and all his prior statements are in vain.

Truth be told, the catastrophic ending (which could also be edited better) aside Why Don’t You Play in Hell is mostly an entertaining, at times even exhilarating, ride. Mainstream audiences ought to like it.


Love Exposure

October 27, 2009

Ai no mukidashi (Japan, 2008)

Director Sion Sono is probably best known for his cult hit Suicide Club (2001). This beautiful yet disturbingly graphic satire used the horror genre as its playground and painted an image of hectic modern Japan where popular culture and the societal demands could even make suicide fashion. The semi-sequel Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005) dropped horror from the mix, and delivered a 2½ hour dive into the mind of a teenager desperately looking for her identity. Sono’s new film, 237 minute Love Exposure, is logical continuation to the director’s earlier works. It’s also one of the most massive and best movies of the decade.

The primary theme in Love Exposure is religion. The main character, Yu Honda, excellently played by Takahiro Nishijima from the pop-band AAA, is a teenager living in a deeply Catholic family. There are two important women in Yu’s life; his saint-like mother, and Virgin Mary. As a child Yu promises his mother to find his own Mary when he grows up and start a family. After the mother’s death Yu’s father (Atsuro Watabe) becomes a priest, but ultimately descends into depression and starts forcing his son into daily confessions. Being an extremely kind and good hearted person, Yu can’t think of any sins he might have committed. This, of course, is considered even a greater sin. To please his dear father Yu even tries to make up sins, but is soon caught lying. The only solution left is to start committing real sins.

Despite this insane and tragicomic religious circle presented in the film, it is not Sono’s intent to entirely bash Christianity. The director respects the origins of the religion – even as much to include the line “Jesus Christ was cooler than Curt Cobain”. The film’s characters – including Yu, who believes he can be a devout Christian by following the norms taught to him, but doesn’t realize religion should come from one’s own heart and be based on one’s own decision – are as much victims as abusers of religious ideals distorted in the course of time. In Sono’s mad world religions are only one part of the twisted system that also includes the pop-culture insanity of Suicide Club, and the murderous identity crisis seen in Noriko’s Dinner Table.

Love Exposure’s 17 year old protagonist finds his sinful calling in tosatsu, upskirt photography. Yu’s new hooligan friends introduce him to tosatsu legend Lloyd (Hiroshi Ohguchi) who accepts Yu has his student. In Japan tosatsu is reality and a somewhat popular underground phenomena. Photos are taken with most inventive techniques, including the cute puppy strategy, where camera is attached to a dog’s collar. When the victim kneels down to caress the innocent dog, a clean view opens for the camera. In Sono’s hands the art of tosatsu is taken far beyond this, and even kung fu techniques are applied to steal a photo. These scenes present some of the most outrageously amusing footage seen on silver screen in the recent years.

Yu’s plan of committing religious sins is a success to the extent of his father losing his temper and hitting Yu. Yu is only glad about this; it’s the most personal reaction in a long time from his father, who now hides under the priest’s gown and treats his own son like a stranger. However, there is another, even more important reason for Yu’s obsession with tosatsu. Yu believes it’s the only way to find Mary, who is hidden somewhere amongst the millions of people of Tokyo. The signal for finding the right person would be a hard on (you read that right) that Yu has never before experienced. Waiting for that day Yu spends his time with his new friends – shoplifters and perverts – who ironically form a more understanding community than Yu’s real family.

Family is a regular theme in Sono’s movies. In Noriko’s Dinner Table a father was desperately trying to track down his runaway daughter, while Strange Circus dealt with incest. Obviously Sono’s family portraits are quite different from those of Japan’s beloved but Sono’s hated filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. Sono’s has even gone as far to call Ozu an Antichrist. It would seem appropriate to call Sono an Anti-Ozu. However, Sono’s family-hell depictions are not only angst towards the safe and unexciting Japanese cinema traditions, but also, to some extent, based by the director’s own life. This is also true to Love Exposure, which was influenced by the director’s tosatsu loving friend as well as Sono’s own experiences as being a part of a religious cult.

Drawn together from a 370 page screenplay Love Exposure features such a massive amount of story that the plot summary presented in this review is nothing but a brief introduction. What would seem like the beginning of end – with Catholism and tosatsu already thoroughly inspected – turns out to be only the first phase. Many important characters, such Koike (Eiji Okuda’s daughter Sakura Ando), karate skilled Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima), and mysterious Miss Sasori, disguised in black coat and Meiko Kaji hat, have not even made their appearance in the film by this point. It’s only after their introduction, around 58 minutes, when the film’s title screen appears, and the first of the story’s five chapters is brought to a conclusion.

While the storyline unravels with logic, it also manages to be completely unpredictable on its way to the eventual climax. Adjusting to the varying moods of its characters, the film modifies its style and approach several times. Influences have been taken from classic Japanese exploitation films, art house movies, and even Hong Kong action. Due to the long running time this variety is only welcome and does not make the film less coherent. In shorter form the mix would probably become nonsensical, which was also observed by the director when he prepared the producer-pleasing 2 hour test-version. On the other hand, Sono’s first draft ran six hours and was more explicit. In the 4 hour version, which is Sono’s final cut, for example sexual undertones are constantly present, but there are no graphic sex scenes or nudity.

The film’s most problematic part might be, as reversed as it may sound, the sequences around the 60 minute mark. These scenes represent such audio-visual perfection that anything that follows can’t possibly reach the same level. Especially the film’s soundtrack, part of which was created by the punk-pop band Yura Yura Teikoku, deserves recognition. Religious music is also used to a great extent, sometimes even simultaneously with pop songs. Typical to Sono’s movies, there’s a good amount of handheld cinematography , which fits the film’s style well. Still, as a whole Sono’s vision relies more on storyline than technical credits, and this softens the impact when moving on from the wildest parts to more casual storytelling. Nevertheless, the viewer should be prepared for slower pacing and a bit less outrageous plot turns during the film’s second half.

More than anything else Love Exposure is an experience. As such it may be slightly flawed, but it’s also endlessly fascinating and almost certainly different from anything created before in the history of cinema. The extreme length may put off casual viewers, but the film isn’t boring for one second. When the storyline finally wraps up after four hours the viewer can’t help but to wish Sono had depicted the chain of event even a little bit further. What might have happened next is a good topic for discussion after the film, as Love Exposure is sure to remain in the viewers mind for days if not weeks.