Sion Sono’s The Virgin Psychics is one strange movie, though not for the reasons his films are usually strange. True to its title, this high-concept comedy about a group of virgins who are bestowed fantastical abilities mixes the supernatural with frank illustrations of sex and desire, and while it features a number of crude and off-color gags, the tone is so lighthearted and inclusive that it ranks among the director’s least aggressive films. Like a screwball comedy director working in classic Hollywood, Sono understands that the key to a good sex joke isn’t shock value but showmanship. An array of deliberately exaggerated performances, a staple of Sono films in any genre or style, hammer home the story’s goofy and almost bashful nature, giving some of the more outsized and potentially bothersome gags—a buxom police medium sees the future of any person who stares at her breasts; a high school jock teleports into the girls’ locker room—an air of innocence. The dialogue and situations may be dirty, but actual sex and nudity is noticeably scarce. Instead, Sono derides the unique and unfair burdens of virginity while holding up the seemingly outdated importance Japanese society places on purity and virtue. Basically John Waters meets The Avengers, The Virgin Psychics gleefully mocks good taste while retaining a noble, almost conservative core.
Basically John Waters meets The Avengers.
A feature-length adaptation of Sono’s own 12-part TV miniseries, itself adapted from a manga written by Kiminori Wakasugi, the film begins with a lengthy sequence in which our nerdy protagonist, Yoshiro (Shota Sometani), flips through a mental rolodex of attractive women that he knows, in search of masturbation material—a nightly ritual that happens to coincide with a cosmic occurrence that gives him and a group of similarly emotionally unfulfilled virgins telepathic powers, enabling them to perform various feats, including versions of their own souped-up sex fantasies. Yoshiro and crew are also able to detect the desires of others, and so they find themselves attuned to every lustful thought that surrounds them. From there, Sono pivots on a number of narrative digressions and plot twists, the majority of which exist solely to stretch out a joke or gag of some kind; your ability to withstand the film may hinge on how much of the relentlessly silly and structurally anarchic plot you can handle. The central conflict is represented by the team’s attempt to thwart a group of “evil psychics” from wiping out humanity while using sex as a weapon. But the overall objective remains muddled—the heroes are either trying to push the world into an outright orgy or a puritanical state, it’s never clear which. The push and pull between sex as an aspiration and sex as a destructive tool cements the films ideas of virtue. Its most telling element involves Yoshiro’s attempts to find his true love, a girl he fell for before they were even born, when they were both in their mothers’ womb. It’s a romantic notion, and the fact that it exists in a film otherwise full of dripping-wet cleavage and relentless erection jokes is an example of paradox unique to Sono. He understands the appeal of both sides, but doesn’t fully align himself with either, choosing instead to mark the details of sex as it exists across all plains. These insights, coupled with the director’s usual stylistic irreverence and some surprisingly cathartic bits of humor, give The Virgin Psychics a thematic nuance that belies the brazen and patently stupid nature of its premise. In other words: textbook Sono.
This film has yet to be theatrically released in the U.S.