Retrospective Film

by Luke Gorham by Sam C. Mac Retrospective Film

The Whispering Star | Sion Sono

September 2, 2016
Whispering Star

While much of Sion Sono’s early-aughts filmography is littered with cycles of violence and horror—films that plumb the depths of a darkness seemingly inherent in humankind—the ever-ubiquitous director’s finest of a whopping five 2015 theatrical releases pointedly proffers a rejection of its post-human world. With The Whispering Star, Sono opts for a lo-fi science-fiction yarn, a literal chamber drama defined by its textured images. He shoots in a high-contrast black and white, with stars, matches, and candles becoming light sources against an oppressive blackness…

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Drew Hunt Retrospective Film

The Virgin Psychics | Sion Sono

September 1, 2016
Virgin 2

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…

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by Jake Cole Retrospective Film

Tag | Sion Sono

August 31, 2016
Tag

The jarring, discordant tones present in Tag are established within just the film’s first few images, which juxtapose an ominous helicopter shot of school buses and the dissonant swell of a cello against carefree scenes of the teenage girls that reside inside, as they engage in pillow fights. Almost immediately, gales of razor-sharp wind slice the tops off the girls’ school buses, leaving only a baffled, terrified, and blood-soaked Mitsuko (Reina Triendi) to look wide-eyed at her bisected peers. Only in the demented world…

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by Simon Abrams Retrospective Film

Love & Peace | Sion Sono

August 30, 2016
Love & Peace

There’s a moment at the end of Love & Peace, an otherwise lumpy adult fairy tale, where the story threatens to come to a satisfyingly destructive head. At this point, Ryoichi (Hiroki Hasegawa), an office drone turned rock star, is confronted by Turtle, a magical kaiju-sized snapping turtle that helps Ryoichi realize his callow dreams of fame and fortune. Instead of stomping the shit out of Ryoichi, Turtle—later renamed “Love”—forgives Ryoichi for not only abandoning him, but also becoming a colossal…

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by Christopher Bourne Retrospective Film

Shinjuku Swan | Sion Sono

August 29, 2016
Shinjuku-Swan

Shinjuku Swan, an adaptation of Ken Wakui’s manga series, finds director Sion Sono at his slickest, glossiest, and most impersonal. Set in the bustling titular section of Tokyo, specifically the Kabukicho red-light district, the film follows the travails of the bleached blond-maned Tatsuhiko (Go Ayano), who’s seen at the outset wandering Shinjuku with a rumbling stomach, a few coins in his pocket, and a massive chip on his shoulder. When Tatsuhiko gets in a fight with a bunch of guys…

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by Kenji Fujishima Retrospective Film

Tokyo Tribe | Sion Sono

August 26, 2016
Tokyo Tribe

Though the presence of Shota Sometani, the tortured lead actor of Sion Sono’s Himizu—who’s even sporting the same gray hoodie he wore in that previous film—establishes a link between Sono’s more serious Fukushima Daiichi disaster-related films, Tokyo Tribe is resolutely in the maximalist vein of the director’s glorious movie-about-moviemaking Why Don’t You Play in Hell? If anything, Tokyo Tribe even manages to top the blissfully insane pleasures of its predecessor. Imagine a Warriors-influenced rap musical set in a dystopian Tokyo wherein various street gangs are…

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by Chris Mello Retrospective Film

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? | Sion Sono

August 26, 2016
Why Don't

There’s a moment late in Why Don’t You Play in Hell? that neatly sums up Sion Sono’s distinctive vision. A boy crawls through a blood-soaked room to be next to the girl he loves, a girl he’s only just met — and there’s a sword running through his head as he does this, transforming him into a sort of grotesque unicorn. As in many of Sono’s best films, the extravagant violence here is motivated by grandiose emotions. And while it makes loud…

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Drew Hunt Retrospective Film

Himizu | Sion Sono

August 25, 2016
Himizu

Sion Sono’s near-masterpiece Himizu takes place in the shadow of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and ensuing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, the largest such event since Chernobyl in 1986. The disaster left the surrounding area and national psyche ravaged, but if we’re to believe the film’s pessimistic view of Japanese society, Fukushima Daiichi wasn’t the only toxic thing about contemporary Japan. An unabashedly gloomy coming-of-age tale, Himizu turns a scornful eye toward a culture that promotes individualism while simultaneously hindering…

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by Jake Mulligan Retrospective Film

Guilty of Romance | Sion Sono

August 25, 2016
Guilty of Romance

An unfulfilled housewife drifts away from her mannered husband by selling her body whenever he’s away in Sion Sono’s Guilty of Romance—a film that seems in conversation with Luis Buñuel’s classic Belle de Jour. As with his forebear, the central transgression Sono is after is the wandering sex life of an ostensibly monogamous woman, a subject the director makes personal in both writing and casting. The kept woman is Izumi Kikuchi (Megumi Kagurazaka, Sono’s wife), who’s left to rigorous housekeeping each day. Her perpetually domineering husband makes…

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by Zach Lewis Retrospective Film

Bad Film | Sion Sono

August 24, 2016
Bad Film

Despite its 2012 release, Bad Film captures a Sion Sono before he reached international acclaim; before his particular brand of otaku-influenced action films; and before his unabashed revelry in exhibitionism and voyeurism. It was filmed back in the mid-’90s, way before Sono’s breakout Suicide Club, and not finished until after his critical success Love Exposure, in 2011. This allowed a wizened Sono to collect fragments (roughly 150 hours) of his earlier activist years and turn them into either a diary of a particular…

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by Alex Engquist Retrospective Film

The Land of Hope | Sion Sono

August 23, 2016
image

Only in a filmography as stylistically restless and formally anarchic as Sion Sono’s would a somber family drama like The Land of Hope be considered a radical departure. Made in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and ensuing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011, Sono’s film is its own odd hybrid of Ozu-esque generational drama, speculative sci-fi, and searingly direct protest art. Set in a post-Fukushima Japan, in a fictional rural province called Nagashima (Sono’s invented portmanteau of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Fukushima, all…

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by Sean Gilman Retrospective Film

Love Exposure | Sion Sono

August 22, 2016
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Sion Sono’s Love Exposure is an epic, four-hour romantic comedy about terrible fathers, upskirt photography, Catholicism, and the meaning of love. Where Sono’s Bicycle Sighs could be categorized as a fairly typical minimalist art film, and his Suicide Club firmly entrenched itself in the millennial wave of Japanese horror, Love Exposure is much less easy to peg—a wholly original pop construct springing forth from its auteur’s cracked heart. If the film has a stylistic precursor at all, it’s the freewheeling exuberance of ’70s exploitation cinema: the…

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