Japanese director Sion Sono is rarely one to pull his punches. From the Love Exposure trilogy, Cold Fish through to 2013’s Why Don't You Play in Hell?, his approach to filmmaking has always remained utterly distinctive and equally as divisive. Throughout his career he has continued to release films at an incredible rate (2015 saw him complete five films alone) and this year has been no different. Since wrapping Antiporno in 2016 (the film was only released in Japan at the start of this year), he has completed Tokyo Vampire Hotel and Shinjuku Swan II, and is now onto an as of yet untitled project. Sono is an artist in a hurry, with plenty on his mind and never once hesitant about committing it to film.
Antiporno is in fact part of a soft-porn revival by Japanese TV and film company, Nikkatsu. Their ‘Roman Porno' films were hugely popular in the 70s and 80s and Sono has taken the helm of the third release in this new series. However, for anyone expecting a traditional soft-porn flick from the maverick director is set to be sorely disappointed. Accusations of misogyny have followed Sono for quite some time, but he is in full-on feminist attack mode for this meta-takedown of porn, its audience, society’s prudish approach to sex and Nikkatsu themselves.
Story remains in solely service to the themes in a film that is abrasive, bold and narratively bewildering. The characters mostly exist in a room painted in psychedelic yellow that acts as both home, film set and dream world. Kyoko (Ami Tomite) ponders over her role as an award winning ‘whore’ (her own terminology) dominating and humiliating her older assistant Noriko (Mariko Tsutsui). Her mood swings around the room almost as wildly as she does, while her dead sister hauntingly plays piano in the corner. Out of the blue a director screams “Cut!” and the camera pulls back to show a film crew on-set. In reality Kyoko and Noriko's relationship is reversed, the former now derided for her acting ability by her fellow cast and crew members.
Sono’s attack on the male control of Japanese society (which can easily be transplanted anywhere else in the world) is far from subtle, but it is everything you would expect from the man. The degrading humiliations that Kyoko goes through in all her forms are both brutal and other times ridiculously funny (the language used during the dining scene with Kyoko’s family being the prime example) with almost nothing held in reserve. Tomite is utterly committed to her performance and the level of energy she propels into her character keeps you fixated on her unbalanced emotional state.
By the mid-way point there is little gained from trying to identify where reality starts and ends given how many times the film turns itself inside out. Cinematographer Kumiko Hosokawa’s use of colour purposely adds to the confusion, at the same time seducing you with its gorgeous visual palette. Despite running for a brief 76 minutes there is a lot to take in and even Sono eventually runs out of juice in the final 15 minutes. The Nikkatsu rule states there should be a sex scene every ten minutes, and while Sono pretty much ticks that box, if there were any other guidelines agreed to, Antiporno appears to abandon every single last one of them.