Sion Sono’s eighth feature refined and nearly perfected his early, amateurish Dogme 95-esque aesthetic. Billed as a “film about the human body,” The Real Body is a totally singular hybrid of documentary and fiction. It examines the work of four artists—photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, buoh dancer Akaji Maro, fashion designer Shinichiro Arakawa, and Sono himself—each of whom use the human body, in different ways, to express lust, love, and desire. Sono also directs a film-within-the-film following a high school girl (Keiko Hamaguchi) who loves to run and falls for a restaurant worker (Takuji Suzuki). The two unnamed characters elope—after dragging a statue of Hachikō the dog (in Japan, a symbol of faithfulness) through the streets—and subsequently find a place to consummate their love. Most of the action in this section comes from the couple running down lengthy streets, Sono chasing behind, filming them with his handheld camera. The actors are non-professional, which gives sequences a more gritty, naturalistic feeling—despite an indulgence of absurd comedy.
More recommended for those familiar with Sono, who wish to see the oddball director’s still-developing skills.
Sono’s humor has always tended toward the whacky, and this film is no exception: line readings are screamed and panties are liberally displayed—it’s a Japanese style of comedy that understandably alienates some audiences. The distinction Sono is interested in exploring through this exaggerated behavior is that between a filled and an unfilled body. What exactly can fill a body? Have the two lovers in Sono’s film-within-the-film filled theirs? While we ponder these questions, individual scenes show us Sono at work writing his film’s screenplay, or having a roundtable read with his actors—even his assistant director’s divorce is touched on, a result of stress from working on this project. Paired with this study are the works of the other artists—most strikingly, Araki’s photography. In Araki’s work, naked bodies pile up next to each other, all hollow tools given meaning only by whatever position the artist wishes that they take. Sono, who was a poet before he became a director, has clearly taken on an ambitious project, one covering a lot of metaphysical territory in under two hours. There’s a freewheeling momentum that prevents him from being weighed down by his thesis, but newcomers may be put off by the purposefully grimy aesthetic and lack of structure. The Real Body is more recommended for those familiar with Sono, who wish to see the oddball director’s still-developing skills just before he made his biggest hit, Suicide Club.