Sion Sono is on a roll. He's been working really hard on his career, expanding his oeuvre with at least one new film every year. With two more in the pipeline, Koi no Tsumi (Guilty of Romance) isn't exactly his latest, but editing troubles (the international cut went from 149 to 113 minutes) kept me from catching up with this one. I was finally able to watch the full version and Sono didn't disappoint, though he didn't exactly surprise either.
In Koi no Tsumi, Sono (Love Exposure, Ekusute, Himizu) is sticking with the formula that worked so well for him in Cold Fish. A pure spirit is dragged into a world of twisted individuals and perverse behavior, slowly spiralling out of control until the bucket spills and her entire world collapses, taking down everyone around her. The setting and characters may differ, but the underlying constructions are becoming very typical for Sono's work.
Koi no Tsumi tells the tale of Izumi. A modest, run of the mill Japanese housewife who just married one of Japan's most lauded novelists. Izumi's friends envy her lifestyle, but Izumi quickly finds herself bored and alone. Her husband is out working all day while she tends to the house and prepares for his return. To pass the time she takes up a part time job in a supermarket, where she's picked up by a representative of a local model agency.
Izumi is quite timid and without really realizing what is happening she's pressured into posing for soft-erotic photographs. Instead of feeling guilty afterwards, Izumi feels revived and starts to explore her own boundaries, until one day when she hooks up with a weird individual in the love hotel district. The man holds her hostage for a short while, threatens to spill the beans to Izumi's husband and pushes her over the edge. It's the start of Izumi's mental downfall.
Sono may not be the most visually gifted director out there, but he always puts in the effort to make something of his films. He plays around with neon lights, there are few meticulously framed scenes and the use of color in general is pretty notable. It might be that 149 minutes is a bit too long for him to keep it up as a few other scenes appear to be a little sloppy, but overall the visual impression of Koi no Tsumi is definitely above average.
The soundtrack on the other hand is shamelessly in your face. When it comes to music Sono isn't one to favor subtlety and Koi no Tsumi is no exception. It's a rather varied soundtrack with a fair selection of tracks to underline the different genre influences, and while the tracks by themselves may lack individuality the prominent spot Sono grants them in his films more than makes up for that. Usually I'm not a fan of these types of soundtracks, but here it really suits Sono's often grotesque style of making films.
Apart from Sono regular Megumi Kagurazaka, there aren't too many familiar faces to be found in Koi no Tsumi. The cast really gives it their all though. Izumi is played by Miki Mizuno, who probably has the toughest role of the bunch. She does a pretty great job merging the two sides of Izumi in one single character. Makoto Togashi shows similar dedication but ends up going slightly over the top. The rest of the cast is solid, with an extra thumbs up for the daring role of Hisako Ohkata, quite the character to play at her respectable age.
Intertwined with Izumi's arc is the story of an investigator trying to solve a murder case in the love hotel district. Most of it is cut out of the international version, which is a little strange considering the parallels and the extra weight they put on Izumi's part of the film. Then again, it is a pretty standalone section and it does free up more than half an hour. I do recommend watching the full cut though, as the extra scenes definitely add something substantial.
Koi no Tsumi may not be Sono's brightest, most ambitious or most accomplished work, but it's a more than solid addition to Sono's already strong oeuvre. The first 90 minutes are intriguing, the final 60 a worthy climax to a twisted and perverted story. Sono is without a doubt one of the most interesting directors working in Japan today, so be sure not to miss this film.