Sion Sono


(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

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Sion Sono, a former member of a religious cult and of a terrorist group, but later the leader of performance art collective Tokyo Gagaga, started his career in the gay pornography industry and was still making such movies in the late 1990s, for example Dankon/ Penis (1998), as well as "pink films" such as Seigi no Tatsujin - Nyotai Tsubo Saguri (1998). The appropriately titled Bad Film (1995), a mixture of gangster film and softcore porno, did not reveal particular directing or scripting gifts.

However, Keiko Desu Kedo (1997) is a non-film of sorts that simply documents the lonely mediocre life of a young woman, a film in which time seems to be the real protagonist. Nothing of interest happens. We can't even explore the woman's inner state of mind because we are offered very few details about her life. There are very long close-ups that could be paintings.

A director begins filming. For a long time all we see is the face of a woman staring straight at the camera. We hear voices in the background. She starts crying. Finally the voiceover announces "I am Keiko", and the scene shifts to a close-up of a clock. The voiceover announces that the film will last one hour one minute one second. Keiko is almost 22 years old. She counts the day. She talks about the passing of time. She presents memorabilia of her father who died of cancer: bone framgents, watch, cigarette case, pen, a letter he wrote to her... She is alone in a room. Sometimes she interrupts the monologue to literally count the seconds that are passing by. There remain three weeks to her birthday. Halfway into the film she dresses up like different television hostesses and fakes a broadcast dedicated to her life, with all the details of what she has done during the day. There is clock in the foreground. Not having enough to say, she simply presses her answering machine to make us listen to her welcome message. Then we see her cleaning up her apartment and taking the garbage out, counting the steps one by one. Finally there are only 11 minutes to her birthday, and she starts counting the last seconds. We see her empty soom. The countdown ends but there are still a few seconds to one hour one minute one second...

The impossibly patience-straining self-indulgent Utsushimi/ Body (1998) is another non-film. The film is many films in one, probably just sketches that Sono had in his mind and that he randomly threw in together. The one aspect that holds them together is a sense of slapstick comedy, which, of course, is in sharp contrast with the horror of his previous films.

The camera shows from the top of a high-rise building a man who is walking in a snow-covered parking lot. Stills of a vase, of a cup, of stuffed animals in a museum, then the statue of Hachiko (a famous dog in Japan). The year is 1999, which is one year after the date in which the film will be released. The silent protagonist introduces his or her family (that will never appear again in the film). The director Sono is taking pictures of naked girls. That's one aspect of "body": photography. Then there is a butoh dancer in his gym, training "bodies" to perform appropriate movements. And finally there is a fashion designer, preparing clothes for bodies. Sono and his team are preparing to shoot a film. So far instead of voiceover the narration has been via subtitles. The protagonist of Sono's film is a high-scool girl who always runs around town with a smile. She is in love with the older chef of a small eatery. She tells everybody she wants to lose her virginity with him. She even takes his hand and puts it under her shirt. But he is cold and indifferent. The other people at the restaurant don't seem to notice. Sono's team is planning the film. They discuss a scene at a park in front of the Haciko statue and we see the girl passing the statue and nearby two women uttering the lines decided by the team. She starts pulling the statue in the street and keep pulling it down the street, while people assemble around her and starts following her. More and more onlookers join the procession. She shouts that she wants the one she loves. She heads to the restaurant. Maybe this is only happening in her mind because noboly else follows her inside. She starts dancing on a table and stripping but the chef continues his work indifferent. The other customers, however, leave in a hurry. The crowd is shown outside watching silently. She begs the chef for sex. She accepts all of his conditions. Finally aroused, he carries her outside in his arms and gets a standing ovation from the crowd. We see a woman, part of Sono's team, dictating the dialogue and the plot. The two lovers are now looking for a quiet place to have sex. Inside a house they find a bridal dress that makes the girl happy. (This part, basically a slapstick comedy, is underlined by an accordion-driven march-like fanfare reminiscent of Eastern European town fairs). The girl starts running again and he starts chasing her. He is left behind and has to hitch a ride to catch up with her. Back to the fashion designer, with subtitles, and to the dancers practicing in the studio of the butoh dancers. The odd couple is still looking for a suitable place to have sex. Now she is nervous and wasting time. While hugging and undressing, they break a window and she walks on the roof of a nearby house half-naked and hangs from a tree. Then she drops in the street and runs away. She comes back and finally loses her virginity standing on top of him. Then she thanks him with a bow and leaves. She is running around town again. Back to the set of the film with the director Sion Sono himself, they are getting ready for an audition and the aspiring girls have to undress. Back to the room of the waiter, he says that his name is Takuji. The audition of the naked girls (with Sono taking pictures of their bodies) and Takuji's meditation that he is falling in love for real alternate. Takuji says he is a changed man. Then the camera indulges on the fashion designer's products: lushly colored pieces of clothes; and the textures become protagonists for a few minutes. The butoh master explains the meaning of the word "utsushimi", a special meaning for his art. The naked girls are lined up against a wall in front of the director. Then the girls lie down on the floor and the director takes pictures of them. Back to the restaurant, while the whole team is reading the script aloud, we see the film troupe filming the chef as he confesses to be in love with the crazy girl. He starts running around like the girl. He finds someone peeing against a wall, yells at him, the filthy man cleans his fingers on Takuji's shirt, and Takuji even gets beaten up. He has the dream of the girl running in a snow field on the mountains. He finally finds her in the street but he can't keep up with her. Then he starts exercising nonstop at a gym. He gets good enough to run after the train that she is riding. He has a nightmare of carrying a huge penis while following the girl. He begs her but now she's in love with someone else. He's an athlete who runs faster. The chef tries in vain to compete with them, but, when he trips, they run away and leave him alone. He sits angry yelling at her. The chef and the girl finally have sex in a wild manner (on a wheeled cart that someone is dragging along a pond) and this alternates with a wild butoh orgy. The cart starts going downhill and falls in the muddy pond, where they frolic happily. Then they resume running, all filthy and sweaty. She flags down a church and asks to be taken to a church. Something goes wrong: he jumps out of the car and starts dragging his leg as if wounded while someone not shown by the camera sprays red paint on him (and on the car) as if he was not only bleeding but sprinkling blood all over. She swears eternal love to him and loads him on her back. The camera shows from the top of a high-rise building a man who is walking in a snow-covered parking lot.

Jisatsu Sakuru/ Suicide Club (2001) displayed Sono's ability to switch between genres: horror movie, detective movie, psychological thriller, even black comedy and a sort of tribute to the "Rocky Horror Picture Show". all coexist and complement each other. In the background Sono takes on three qualities of Japanese society: precision, discipline and collectivism. In the foreground he is attacking the mass media that are supposed to cheer up the audience are in fact spreading the very disease that leads to mass suicide. A new medium towers over the old ones: the Internet, that allows a different (and much more efficient) kind of interpersonal connection (note that the film came out before the boom of social media). The film spins further out of control as it approaches the ending, a wild merry-go-round of blinking signs. In the end the role of innocent children becomes more prominent. The secret to the whole mystery lies with the smiling little children, both the ones who play in the band and the ones who are playing backstage. It is an ironic ending to a horror movie. What Sono retained from the horror genre is the visual art, the art of making images as sensational as possible; except that in his case they may become broader symbols a` la Fellini, Bunuel, Angelopulous, Lynch, etc.

A large noisy group of high-school girls floods the platform of the train station. They are chatting and laughing casually like on any normal day. The train approaches. They line up at the edge of the platform and hold hands, still smiling at each other. They count one two three... and they jump. The train smashes them to pieces raising a wave of blood and body parts that stains passengers and bystanders. A purse is left on the platform, soon surrounded by expanding blood.
Meanwhile the country is obsessed with the teenage girl group Dessert
The film moves to a hospital, where two young happy nurses are working at the music of the band. One of them offers to go and buy food at a bakery and walks through a dark corridor to the elevator. The front door is locked so she has to call the security guard, who is listening to the news on the radio and can't believe that 54 teenagers committed suicide. Seconds later the guard hears a strange noise and walks into the dark corridor with a flashlight. The nurse is not coming back. The other girl is getting worried because it is taking too long. She hears an ambulance drive by. The guard calls her to check on her. There is no answer. The guard takes the elevator upstairs and finds nobody in her office but the window is open. Finally the first nurse comes back, complaining that it took so long for her to find the food she wanted. She opens the window that the guard closed and suddenly she jumps to her death. The guard is petrified. And then the lights go on and things seem to wake up, and a bloody purse moves by itself on the floor.
The police investigators are puzzled by the mass suicide. It involved girls from 18 schools, not just one. A phone call from a woman, Kiyoko, whose Internet nickname is Bat, tips one of the detectives, Shibu, that a website has been posting red and white dots corresponding to the girls and boys who commit suicide... before the suicides take place. Later the police also realize that the same kind of purse is being left on the location of a suicide, and it always contains human flesh. The one left at the train station contains a big roll of skin formed by stitching together 10 cm strips of skin taken from dozens of people. Shibu is convinced that they are faced with a suicide cult.
A group of high-school students (only three boys, the rest are girls) assembles on the roof of the school. They start casually chatting about the suicides and they decide to form a "suicide club". They are laughing as if it were a practical joke. But then a girl claims she is going to commit suicide for real. Soon all the girls and boys are lined up at the edge of the roof. Again, they count one two three... and most of them jump. The others soon follow. This time the police don't find any bag.
The next suicide is a boy who jumps from a roof just when his girlfriend is passing by and wounds her. Shibu is convinced that the girl, Mitsuko, knows more than she is willing to admit. Her boyfriend was shaved off a piece of skin (that matches one of the pieces found in the bag) and the police force her to strip in order to check whether she too is missing a piece of skin. This is obviously the sign that the person is ready to commit suicide. She is not missing any skin but she has a butterfly tattoo that is very similar to the design on the suicidal people's skin.
Shibu's fellow detective Kuroda has a happy family. His daughter is a fan of Dessert. His son mentions a website that claims to be able to fight the Suicide Club...
Kiyoko, shut in her room with a female friend, posts on her blog that she is studying the Suicide Club. Kuroda's son finds a way to get into the mysterious website. A child who sounds ill calls the police station claiming to have information abou the suicides and specifically points out at something that should happen in the train station. Shibu, Kuroda and other cops scatter around the station but nothing happens, except that Shibu almost faints and looks sick. The wave of suicides picks up pace: four girls hang themselves, a charming housewife calmly chops her fingers in front of her little girl, a restaurant chef swallows dozens of pills while watching stand-up comedy on television, a girl sticks her head into an oven and one of the stand-up comedians slits his throat in front of the audience. A girl holds a sign in the street inviting people to jump. Meanwhile radios and televisions broadcast silly songs, presumably sung by Dessert, and one of the singing girls, interviewed on television, says that they want to cheer up people during such a gloomy time. Among the victims of the new wave of suicides is Kuroda's entire family.
Kiyoko is having fun studying the secrets of the Suicide Cult but she and her female friend are kidnapped by three guys who then take them to a bowling alley where other kidnapped people are imprisoned. The two girls are introduced to an effeminate neurotic character nicknamed Genesis, who dresses like an old glam-rock star of the 1970s and welcomes them to the Suicide Cult and displays his cruelty by having one of his thugs rape and slaughter one of the imprisoned girls while he grabs a guitar and sings a rock song (something in between the "Phantom of the Opera" and the "Rocky Horror Picture Show").
The cops find out that Kuroda's son had the cult's tattoo and the skin shaved off. The child calls Kuroda, who is sitting in shock in his home, and mumbles enigmatic sentences about connections while his voice keeps dying as if he had asthma. It is psychological torture for Kuroda who eventually grabs a gun and shoots himself in the mouth.
Kiyoko, wrapped in a white sheet like all the other prisoners of the bowling alley, realizes that her friend has been killed and finds a computer to email the police for help but she doesn't know the address of her whereabouts. Genesis catches her in the act and, instead of stopping her, he personally tells the police where they are: he wants the publicity. Arrested, Genesis boasts that life is short and all that matters is celebrity. On television Dessert is playing the hit song that inspired him.
The police think that Genesis is the man who architected the suicides, although they didn't find out how he convinced people to do it. Mitsuko visits her boyfriend's place and spends some time browsing through his things. Suddenly she realizes that the poster of Dessert's song "Mail Me" contains a secret code. She got it. There is a hidden code in the poster of those smiling little girls. And the code spells the word "suicide". Someone calls and tells her that a Dessert concert is about to begin at the auditorium.
The news reaches police headquarters that 200 girls jumped from a castle. Shibu is online, checking the suicide website, and sees the screen goes wild with new red and white dots. They keep multiplying, signaling a new wave of suicides. Obviously they arrested a murderous mythomaniac but not the brain behind the Suicide Club.
Mitsuko enters the backstage of the auditorium where the Dessert girls should be. A choir of girls recite a few lines about how pointless life is, but nobody tries to stop Mitsuko. She walks through a group of children who are playing unsupervised. There are no adults. She walks into the door leading to the stage. Someone turns off the lights and lifts the curtain. She finds herself in front of an audience of children that starts clapping. Then they ask her philosophical questions about her connectedness. When she replays that she is connected to herself, they give her a standing ovation. The curtain falls (and the curtain is painted with typical nursery school drawings). Mitsuko is now one of the girls imprisoned by the children. The only adult is a man who uses a tool to shave off skin from the body of the captives. When Mitsuko's turn comes, he shaves off her butterfly tattoo. Later the little children form a circle around the pieces of skin stitched to form a roll like the one found in the first purse. A man hangs himself with Christmas lights. Shibu finds the purse at his feet. Inside the purse is the roll of skin. As he unwinds it, Shibu recognizes Mitsuko's tattoo.
Girls are walking inside the train station towards the platform. They all get a phone call. One of them is Mitsuko. Shibu is there and tries to pull her out of the crowd. Mitsuko frees herself, waits for the train with the others and then... walks into the train with the others. Shibu's theory, that the skins correspond to girls programmed to commit suicide, fails. (Or was the phone call a command to abort the mass suicide?)
Dessert, while announcing that they are disbanding, perform a new song, a hymn to life...

Hazard (2005)

Yume no naka e/ Into a Dream (2005)

Noriko no Shokutaku/ Noriko's Dinner Table (2005) is the follow-up to Jisatsu Sakuru/ Suicide Club, and it is a completely different kind of beast. It is not a horror movie at all. Rather it is a psychological study, focusing on multiple voyages of self-discovery. It therefore unfolds at a much slower pace than Suicide Club. The exuberant nihilism and enigmatic rationality of the former film is replaced by an adult melancholy. There is an entire section that delves particularly on the story of the father, a good well-intentioned man who lives in a dreamland, a peaceful isolated coastal town in which life slows regular and uneventful, and has to accept that the world is a different place, where senseless things happen that disrupt ordinary lives, and that his own daughters don't want the ordinary but crave for the extraordinary. Then there is the woman who runs the "family rental" business, an orphan found in a train station locker who eventually meets a couple who claims to be her parents but cannot tell whether they are real or just new customers looking for a staged daughter. This woman who has never known a real family has invented a childhood that she stored in the locker when she was found by the police, and now makes a living out of inventing families for lonely customers. Then there are the two sisters, who end the film after having switch identities finding new ones (although this feels like the weakest part of the film). Instead of the mass suicides, this film deals with a highly organized business (as typical of post-industrial Japanese society) that exposes the fundamental loneliness and failure of ordinary lives. When the protagonist falls in love with a perfect family, she then finds out that it was just staged by professionals, It is, in a sense, a much worse disease than an epidemics of suicides. The film is mostly narrated by voiceovers, with the various characters taking turns at describing the action and their internal turmoil. In other words, the film is more about the streams of consciousness than about the actions; with a peak of psychological drama when the father confronts his daughters who keep acting as if they were simply paid to be his daughters in a supreme example of change of identity. The Suicide Club is just a marginal distraction, that pops up here and there but never truly gets examined in depth nor resolved (the real instigator is barely hinted at). Visually, the film confirms Sono as a visionary maniac, capable of mixing landscapes, interiors and faces in a way that projects a lot more than the action that is going on. Sono's detours from the main plot frequently feel delirious, but also frequently morph into flights of imagination with the seismic impetus of a force of nature.

Noriko is a 17-year old who has run away from home. A flashback shows her as the unhappy daughter of a small-town reporter, bored to death by her family's mediocre life, frustrated at her school's old-fashioned system, jealous of a childhood friend, Tangerine, who is already independent (although she works for an erotic club). Noriko's only satisfaction was to convince the school's principal to grant students longer computer hours, in theory to allow them to gather more information. In practice Noriko was the only one to take advantage of the longer hours, mainly to visit her favorite social media website under the moniker Mitsuko. She wanted to move to the big city, but her father instead wanted her to go to a local college, having seen how her two female cousins got pregnant right away in the big city. The social media allowed "Mitsuko" to make friends in the big city and feel like she wasn't stuck in the countryside. Now she is walking around the big city, fascinated by the lights and the crowds, but with no place to go. The only friendly place is an Internet cafe, where she can connect with her online friend nicknamed Ueno Station 54. They finally meet in person at a station but we don't know what they do together: the film fast forwards six months ahead to the day when 54 girls committed suicide in a train station (the beginning of Suicide Club). This has all been narrated by Noriko herself.
The next chapter is about her sister Yuka, who discusses the mass suicide with a male schoolmate. Yuka doesn't know what happened to her sister Noriko. She is amused, not shocked. And she shows the boy that website that predicts the suicides wwith red and white dots.
Now the story returns to the meeting in the train station. Ueno is using the locker #54 to collect items that she finds and then attaches to them imaginary memories of her childhood. Ueno shows up with her whole family. Her real name is Kumiko. The family takes Noriko to visit Kumimo's grandmother's house. Noriko is shy. She thinks of her sister Yuka and suspects Yuka has been posting on the message board under the moniker Yoko. She is correct: Yoko is now the only computer user in the same computer room at school that Noriko used to connect with Ueno, except that Yoko uses it mostly to watch the secret suicide website. Their father is worried about the suicide wave. And one day Yuka/Yoko runs away from home too. She leaves behind a clue for her father. Her father quits his job and uses his skills as a reporter to find out about his daughters. He quickly realizes that the members of the Suicide Club meet online and that the dots of the mysterious website are people who will commit suicide; and that's the same chat room where Noriko met Kumiko. This is all narrated by Noriko.
The film goes back to the scene when Kumiko's family arrives at grandmother's place. Noriko falls in love with this happy family. Noriko, shy and awkward, keeps following them to another grandmother's place. Noriko, narrating the story, is also talking to Yuka as if they were reading each other's online messages, and telling her how important it is to be connected with oneself (the recurring slogan of the suicide cult), how connected with themselves this family is. Then suddenly something weird happens. As they are driving home, Kumiko's father stops the car, the whole family gets out, Kumiko tells Noriko to wait five minutes. When Noriko follows them inside, she finds them grieving by the deathbed of an old man, Kumiko's granpa. They introduce Noriko as granddaughter Mitsuko. Granpa dies seconds later. Noriko is still in shock when he comes back to life and everybody laughs at her: it was just a prank. The film shifts to a scene in which Ueno/Kumiko shows Noriko/Mitsuko a shelf full of toothbrushes, one for each "customer". The following day she is initiated to a strange profession. They dress up like sluts and visit a lonely, depressed, middle-aged widower for whom they have to play daughters. Noriko likes the part to the point that she feels this is her real father. At some point Kumiko's alarm goes off: time is up. Noriko would like to stay longer but Kumiko insults her and drags her away. It is just business, a business called "family rental". Now we understand that the perfect family was just staged, it was "family rental" by professionals, and, when she attended granpa's death, she, Noriko, passed the test to join the company. Kumiko, in reality, is an orphan, found in a train station locker. Kumiko tells Noriko the fairy tale that she was born in locker #54.
Noriko is still narrating as if she were writing emails to Yuka.
Meanwhile, Noriko's and Yuka's father has tracked down Kumiko, who believes he wants some family rental. He meets a mysterious informer in a restaurant, where everybody stares at them and overhears their conversation. The young man knows everything about Noriko's father and tells him the truth: that Noriko is living and working with Kumiko in the "family rental" business. The old man wants to know about the Suicide Club but the young man denies that it exists. The young man then starts playing the role of religious preacher and psychologist, asking the old man whether he is connected to himself and telling him that Kumiko is the Sun Goddess (the original goddess of the Shinto religion) born in locker #54.
After a Dali-Hitchock-ian dream scene, and a self-confession that he tried to keep life as normal as possible after both his daughters had disappeared. We also learn that his wife committed suicide. It took him extreme tragedy to convine him that his small town was not paradise, that real life was different. He finally admits to himself the shock when he understood how little he understood his daughters.
The old man asks a friend, Ikeda, to pose as a client looking to rent a family from Kumiko's company: Kumiko as his wife, and Noriko/Mitsuko and Yuka/Yoko as his daughters. Yuka has now somehow found Niroko and is working for Kumiko too. Kumiko explains that they are no longer sisters, just employees Mitsuko and Yoko. Kumiko seems to know that their father is behind the whole idea.
Kumiko was raised an orphan, but one day a woman showed up at the family-rental company claiming that she was her real mother. Kumiko, however, could not tell whether she was telling the truth or she was just a customer wanting to play that role. In fact, Kumiko felt that she was a poor actress, despite crying her soul out. According to the woman, Kumiko's real name was Mitsuko. Shortly after that visit, a Mitsuko showed up online... and that explains why Ueno befriended Mitsuko.
For the new assignment the two sisters have to dress again like they were when they ran away. Noriko becomes again the shy awkward spectacled teenager. Their father has recreated the house in which the girls grew up, and has even moved the old furniture into this house. He keeps a knife in his pocket, the knife that his wife used to kill herself. When the three women arrive, they are met by their client, their father's friend, playing their father, while their real father is hiding. The two girls recognize the old furniture, but Kumiko reminds them that this is just business and they start playing the part of the daughters coming back home after a vacation. At some point the fake father sends his "wife" Kumiko to buy food.
Meanwhile, as Kumiko shops around, she reminisces about her miserable life. Her best friends were all killed or killed themselves. One of them was slaughtered by her lover while Kumiko was lying on the bed and smoking a cigarette, apparently indifferent. And we see again a flashback to the mass suicide of the high-school girls at the train station, except that this time we see Kumiko standing by, watching the girls, nodding at some of them. Kumiko had engineered the mass suicide, and taken Noriko with her to witness it. Now it is Kumiko narrating all of this, revisiting her own life.
Inside the house the fake father introduces the girls to a "stranger": their real father, who cannot hide his emotions. His daughters are scared by this stranger who calls them strange names. Yuka simply shivers and crouches away from him, while Noriko shouts that they are Mitsuko and Yoko, not Noriko and Yuka. The alarm goes off: time is up and they want to leave. The father tries in vain to bring back the real ones by branding the knife and threatening to kill them. Outside the fake father is keeping Kumiko out of the house. Somehow Kumiko calls for help and a group of men arrive to defend the girls and beat up the father. This is now narrated by Kumiko, whose stream of consciousness is shown in the form of a surreal dream. We see that the father has killed all the men with his knife.
Kumiko finally enters the house as if nothing had happened and starts chatting with her husband, now the real father. But then she seems to break down and beg him to kill her. The man is not saying anything, just lying down in the middle of the carnage. Kumiko calls the girls with their real names, causing Noriko and Yuka to get hysterical. Yuka starts crying and begs the extend the session. Next we see them in a clean apartment, clean and well dressed, happily having dinner together. He interrupts the conversation and proclaims that he wants to start over, calling Kumiko with the name of his dead wife. They accuse him of having been selfish all of his life and he apologizes. Kumiko smiles as father and daughters reconcile with each other. Now it is Yuka narrating. She is happy about the family that they created (but aware that this is still just acting). She takes a bath with Noriko and they reminisce of their lives as Noriko and Yuka. Yuka goes to sleep happy about their new life. At dawn she walks downstairs and walks out, feeling that she is neither Yuka nor Yoko. Noriko wakes up and takes over the narration. She is no longer a teenager and is no longer interested in being Mitsuko and in the chat room.

Kimyo no Circus/ Strange Circus (2005) is a bizarre, convoluted, cryptic, oneiric thriller. There is no horror (just a little bit of blood and mutilation towards the end). The undercurrents of incest, paedophilia, and transsexuality are functional to a stronger theme of loss of identity. This theme of loss of identity is explored but then detonated and reversed as we are left with the doubt of what really happened: did the daughter identify with the mother or viceversa, or neither? Before the ending this may feel like a psychoanalytic film, but, by the last scene, it has become almost a parody of psychoanalysis. We drift in a sea of ambiguity. We are left in doubt whether what we have seen for the first 30 minutes is the book that a writer is writing or a documentary of something that truly happened. We are left in doubt whether the whole film was the dream of the woman who wakes up towards the end and expects to find a wheelchair; or she is really living the ultimate revenge by a daughter turned a boy. For the first half the film flows at a slow pace, relying more on the stylish visuals than on the plot. Then it picks up speed and towards the end the continuous revelations of the plot take over the visual component. As usual, visually the film says more than the plot says. Some of the scenes are marvels of an expressionistic art that bridges theater and painting.

A strange circus is in town, a circus that offers beheading as the main attraction for the audience. The master of ceremony, a fat woman, pulls a little girl from the audience onto the stage. But this is just a nightmare that the little girl is having while two adults are furiously copulating in another room. Later we see the same little girl entering her father's office and being reproached by her father for poor grades in school. The story is narrated by the child herself, Mitsuko. Later her father locks her inside an empty cello case that has a hole from which the little girl can peek at the two lovers having sex. They live in a vast mansion and her father is the school's principal. Her father is sexually abusing her and one day her mother catches them having sex in the bedroom. She almost faints but then the incestuous menage a trois goes on. One day her father shows her mother that their child has been peeking from the cello case at their lovemaking, and demands that the two women switch places: the mom in the case, the girl in bed; and the mom starts watching them from the hole in the cello case. Eventually the child starts enjoying sex with her father, identifying with her mother. Her mother gets more and more jealous of her, and even tries to kill her. One day the girl accidentally causes her mother to fall off the stairs while they are fighting. After the cremation, the girl wants to be called Sayuri and calls her father "honey"; but one day she tries to kill herself jumping from a roof. A scene shows the surgery to save her life overlapping with the nightmare of the circus. She is confined to a wheelchair.
Years later, still a wheelchair-bound cripple, she has become a scriptwriter, Taeko (played by the same actress who played Mitsuko's mother), who reenacts her nightmare in her highly popular books. The story is no longer narrated by the child. Her publisher, visiting her in her artsy house, whispers to his assistants that she is a nymphomaniac. He seems disgusted by her personality but can't help that she is so good at writing best-sellers. She picks a young naive virgin androgynous assistant as her personal companion, Yuji. She has him push her wheelchair all over town. Then she parts from him, gets up, folds the wheelchair and walks home: she's been pretending to the whole world to be a cripple when in fact she healed perfectly well. Yuji suspects that the book about Mitsuko is her autobiography (and we are left in doubt whether what we have seen for the first 30 minutes is simply the book that she wrote or a flashback into her past). And he is right: back home Taeko walks into a room where a cello case stands and she talks to it as if it were a husband. The room has obviously been unoccupied for years. At night she dresses up like an eccentric and extroverted woman and walks happily in the streets. She even visits a bookstore and chats with Taeko fans about Taeko. While at a convent-shaped night club where prostitutes masquerade as nuns, the publisher (who knows that the wheelchair act is a fake and that Taeko is completely mad) tells Yuji that the company's magazine would be very interested in an article about the real Taeko. Yuji, who is in fact obsessed with Taeko, accepts to work as the company's spy. A flashback shows a younger Taeko who watches powerless as her father/husband has sex with three prostitutes. From her wheelchair she tries in vain to get his attention (she needs to pee) and eventually grabs a steak knife and cuts her thighs multiple times. Yuji belongs to a club of people who mutilated themselves in one way or another.
Another flashback to younger Taeko all bandaged after the incident, trying to walk on her own but falling on the floor, crawling down the stairs, passing by her husband who is having sex with another young girl, reaching for something to drink in the fridge while they ignore her, and being mocked by her father's young lover. Her father was still locking her into the cello case.
To celebrate that she finished the manuscript, Taeko invites Yuji to stay at a beach resort with her, still behaving like she is a cripple who needs help. He has no problem undressing her and seeing her naked. He deliberately "forgets" one page of the manuscript in her purse and later calls her to retrieve it. But he is doing something really weird in the artsy house: he peeps into a cello case, and something is locked in there.
Juyi meets her in her ancestral home, where she was raped. He calls her "mother" and brings back the memory of Mitsuko, that Taeko had suppressed. A man is chained to the floor, bleeding, his legs amputated: the perverted father. Juyi is effeminate because he is indeed a woman: Mitsuko, who removed her breast. Juyi/Mitsuko shouts at her mother that everything she wrote in the story is nothing but lies. Taeko is her mother Sayuri. Now we see the scene of the fall from the stairs again but this time it is the mother who throws the daughter down the stairs. The mother does not die, the daughter is left a cripple for a while. The mother started inventing the memory that she had been killed and started taking her daughter's place, pretending to be Mitsuko, even in school, not the other way around. We see flashbacks of Sayuri having sex with her husband as his daughter Mitsuko, calling him "daddy". Nonetheless, her husband kept sleeping with prostitutes in front of her, until eventually she threw him down some stairs and caused him to become a paralyzed cripple on a wheelchair. She took care of him still calling him "daddy" but then changed name to Taeko to write her stories. Meanwhile, Mitsuko/Yuji waited patiently for a chance to get near her mother and found that chance through the publisher.
Juyi reveals the truth while he keeps torturing his horribly mutilated father. Juyi is taking her revenge on the old man. Sayuri/Taeko did the same for a long time: it looks like Sayuri/Taeko kept her mutilated husband in the cello case all those years. A hysterical Juyi/Mitsuko grabs a chainsaw and is about to cut his/her own head off when... Taeko suddenly wakes up... it was just a bad dream. Taeko wakes up in the beach resort next to Yuji. She asks for her wheelchair, but Yuji replies that there is no wheelchair, that she has always walked, never been a cripple. Then the scene moves again to the ancestral house, where now Sayuri/Taeko is chained next to her dying husband and Yuji is brandishing the chainsaw in the air. Yuji asks: which one is the dream?
The scene returns to the circus of the beginning. The master of ceremony thanks the audience for coming and announces the very last act of the night: beheading by guilloutine of a smiling Sayuri. Her father is the executioner, and everybody else (Yuji, Mitsuko as a child, etc) is in the audience giving her a standing ovation.

Balloon Club, Afterwards (2006)

Ekusute/ Exte - Hair Extension (2007) is a relatively traditional horror movie that fails to rise above the horror even if it tries to bridge it with important topics of child abuse and organ trafficking. It also has a very weak conclusion, clearly designed to provide a happy ending against all rational expectations. If the movie is a metaphor, it is a poorly designed one.

Night guards at the port inspect containers filled with stinking hair used for hair extension. They realize there is a dead body amidst the mass of hair. A sinister middle-aged worker at the morgue is told of the finding. When alone, he opens all the bags containing dead bodies and sniffs their hair. Then he picks the hair of a girl and cuts them. While riding on her bicycle to work on a sunny morning, Yuko introduces herself: she is a 20-year old hair-stylist apprentice in a small town. She has several coworkers, all young girls, and an elegant older woman is their boss. A mother is walking with her daughter Mami, pretending to be taking her to school while in fact heading for Yoko's place. The autopsy on the corpse found at the port reveal that it is full of hair: the internal organs have been stolen. The sinister morgue worker is fascinated by the hair and, when he remains alone with the corpse, he realizes that hair is growing out of her mouth (and a tear comes out of her cheek).
Yuko shares her apartment with her housemate Yuki. The troubled mother is her half-sister Kiyomi, who often neglects her little girl Mami in order to party with her boyfriend. She dumps Mami at Yoko's place.
The morgue attendant takes the corpse to his humble shack by the beach, that he has turned into a sort of museum of female hair. More hair has grown out of the girl's body and he is excited by the discovery.
Yuko finds bruises on the little girl's body: she has been beaten by her mother.
The police detectives find out that the corpse was stolen from the morgue and accuse the attendant of being an idiot.
Yuko is a very enthusiastic worker and a nice human being. Before Yuko gets home, her arrogant and neurotic sister walks into her house to pick up her daughter but also makes herself comfortable. Yuki and Yuko get home and confront her about the bruises on Mami's body. Kiyomi retorts that Yuko had an abortion at 15: Yuko killed her daughter, Kiyomi simply beats up hers. Kiyomi abuses her sister psychologically after abusing her own daughter physically. Yuko does not want to surrender the girl and Yuki threatens to call the police. Finally, Kiyami leaves the apartment without the girl (but not without trying to steal something).
Meanwhile, hair is growing very rapidly from every hole of the corpse stashed in the morgue attendant's house. The man is delighted. He cuts the hair and walks to the hairdresser's shop where he sells them for a good price to one of Yuko's coworkers. Back home he has a surprise: the hair is growing faster and faster, rapidly expanding all over the dead body (that he lulls on a hammock as if she were his little child).
Something horrible happens to the girl who tries the hair extension: she starts seeing how the girl was killed by three masked organ thieves and can hear Christmas music. The girl screams as she can feel the monsters stealing the organs, then she snaps as if possessed by a demon and kills the customer whom she was attending. The morge attendant hears the news and realizes that there is a connection between the corpse's hair and the killing.
Mami makes a mess at Yuko's place and then leaves the apartment. The morgue attendant, wearing a tshirt painted with the red and blue stripes of the US flag, is out in the streets with his video recorder filming girls with beautiful hair. He stumbles into Mami and he is immediately mesmerized by her hair. He starts talking to her but only to find out who she is. Then he walks her to Yuko's workplace, introducing himself as Yamazaki. He keeps filming even while Yuko's coworkers stare at him and while Yuko thanks him. Then he follows them as they take a taxi home. Back home Yuko realizes that Mami has been messing up her room. Mami is terrified that Yuko might punish her. Yuko has to go back to work and leaves Mami home alone.
Yamakazi returns to the hair salon and distributes hair extension to all the girls. One tries it immediately and at night she is killed by it (hairs of infinite length sticking out of her eye, of her fingertips, of her tongue, mixed with flashes of the brutal murder).
Meanwhile Yamazaki is ecstatic because the corpse is vomiting hair of excellent quality at incredible speed all over the room.
In the morning the other girls notice that one girl is missing. Mami's mom has been partying in discos. That morning she decides to go and claim Mami, while Yuko and her housemate are out. Mami makes the mistake of opening the door and her mother proceeds to steal Yuko's clothes, including the hair extension. Then she grabs her daughter and takes her to her boyfriend's place, where Mami gets beaten as usual. But Kiyomi has taken the cursed hair too and the dead woman's hair soon starts working its magic on her boyfriend and on Kiyomi herself. Mami is locked in a closet and only catches glimpses of the massacre that takes place in the bedroom. Chased by the mass of hair, Mami jumps from the balcony. At the hospital Yuko is interrogated by the two police detectives. They take her to the morgue where she is asked to identify her sister's body. Mami only has minor injuries. She tells Yuko and the police that a monster killed her mom. They do find the mass of human hair inside Kiyomi's apartment. The junior detective feels that there is a connection with the missing corpse that has been stolen from the morgue. That corpse is currently being tenderly cuddled by Yama, who can't believe his good luck.
Yuko's housemate Yuki bought a camera. The owner of the hairdresser shop stages a context among her girls. Yuko chooses little Mami as her model. Yuki is filming everything. Yuko applies the deadly hair extensions to Mami's head just when the detectives walk in. Yuki takes Mami home. The detectives explain that one of their clients has been strangled by hair extensions. The girls connect the hair extensions to the odd Yamazaki. Yuko connects it to what she has just done to Mami and rushes home on her bicycle. At home the deadly hairs are beginning their nasty magic, growing all over the place and enveloping the terrified Mami and Yuki. Yamazaki can hear the dead woman talk and realizes that she is about to kill Mami and Yuko. But he loves their hair and is horrified. When Yuko arrives home, she finds a thick curtain of human hair blocking the entrance. She finds Mami and Yuki unconscious and she falls unconscious too. Yamazaki arrives in time to stop the monster from killing them. Just then the detectives enters his house and finds the dead woman in a jungle of human hair. Yamazaki drives away with the unconscious Yuko and Mami, and takes them to his home, where he finds the two detectives trapped in the jungle of human hair. Yamazaki has been humiliated all his life by detectives who treated him like a pathetic slave, and he can now take his revenge on them. Yuko wakes up and witnesses the madman's soliloquy before he strangles the chief detective with the hair.
Something weird happens when he tries to cut Mami's hair: it starts to bleed. The dead woman wakes up, and now her curse hits Yamazaki himself, whose body starts growing hair that traps him, giving Yuko and Mami a chance to escape. Eventually the hair slices his body into several parts, turning him into a slowly unwinding mechanical toy with only a head and feet. Then the corpse lies down and all the hair disappears inside her body.

The sprawling anti-saga Ai no Mukidashi/ Love Exposure (2008) is many things at once: a hilarious madcap pastiche, a satire on religion, a parody of kung-fu and sentimental movies, a postmodernist take on Shakespeare-era comedies of errors. If it is a Biblical allegory, it must be a really complex one because Yu as the redeemer (almost crucified) who is sexually attracted to the Virgin Mary (Yoko) and Aya as the demon who is defeated by love don't quite fit Biblical parables. Yoko is more like an avenging angel. Aya is the archetypical femme fatale. Both are abused girls who have good reasons to take revenge on men. Yu, Yoko and Aya are also dysfunctional young people, and borderline sociopaths. There is a moving love romance hidden in the plot but it is derailed by the comic overtones of the protagonist's massive erections. It feels as if the anarchic and casual spirit of the "Don Quijote" weds a mock revision of Hollywood stereotypes. There are also multiple Freudian themes: the incestuous love that Yu feels for his mother's replacement (who also ends up becoming his step-sister), the father who sleeps with many lovers but truly desires his own daughter, and the alter ego that takes over the protagonist's identity (and mental sanity). Existential depression is ubiquitous among the adults: the stern priest and widower who is easily seduced by a sexy woman; the sexy woman whose emotional instability is probably due to loneliness and aging; and the many who fall victim to the religious cult, presumably all psychologically unstable.

As a little child Yu followed his mother to church where she used to pray often. Her father was a devout Catholic too. His mother died and her last words was for him to find a Virgin Mary worthy of his love. His father decided to become a priest. Initially known for his gentle manners, he was soon seduced by a sexy convert who moved in with them for a few months. Eventually, she left his father for a younger lover, but his father was changed forever: he became a gloomy and stern psychological torturer who kept reminding Yu about sin. Yu got obsessed with sinning, even though he was a good boy. Eventually Yu started committing sins simply to have something to confess to his father. Yu, was was the most polite and gentle kid, starts behaving like an unpolite and rude boy. His father, however, seem to enjoy that now the boy has sins to confess. One day, out of the blue, his father abandons him and moves to the church. One rainy night Yu meets two juvenile delinquent from the same high school who introduce him to vandalism and theft, and to a whole gang of criminals. His friends think he is weird as he declares that he needs to sin because his father is a priest. Yu then rushes to his father's church to confess all his sins (with a big smile, proud of his accomplishments). His friends take him to visit an old master of the obscene and becomes his apprentice with the task of taking pictures of women's panties either through acrobatic moves or with high-tech cameras. This time, however, his father, usually cold and indifferent, beats him up. Yu is actually happy to finally see an emotional reaction in his father. His father calls him a pervert but Yu is actually bored by the pictures of women's intimate parts. He is still looking for the Virgin Mary. Every time Yu tells his father about more and more perverted pictures his father beats him harder and Yu is happier. He becomes a virtuoso of the art (using moves that parody kung-fu). One rainy night while he is praying in front of the church three girls corner him but the leader of the trio, Aya, is amused at meeting a teenage Christian voyeur and forgives him. His three criminal friends somehow interpret the event as a revelation and decide to follow him as if he were a religious prophet. He teaches them the secrets of his art of panty picture taking. Aya and her friends watch them from afar, morbidly amused. Meanwhile his father has become a gentle person again, but then Yu realizes that the middle-aged sexy lover, Kaori, is back. Worse: she has a daughter Yoko and they seem to have a neurotic relationship. Aya and her girls coldly watch, follow Kaori and Yoko around town, gossip, and scheme. They seem to know everything that is going on in Yu's life and to have a plan. Meanwhile, Yu loses a poker game played with pictures of panties and his friends demand that he dresses like a woman and kisses a girl. As they walk around town, they see a large group of male kids surrounding Yoko who confronts them fearless. This happens while Kaori begs the priest to marry her and they make love on the floor of the church. Yoko pushes back the boys, gets on her knees, prays to Jesus, and then the boys put a veil on her head. The gesture is meant to ridicule her but Yu instantly identifies her with the Virgin Mary and falls in love with her. She fights like a possessed demon and Yu, dressed like a queer, fights along her. The cold, sinister, morbid Aya and the other two girls watch from a distance and make sure that nobody interferes.
The second chapter of the film focuses on Aya, who happens to be the member of a Christian cult (and the founder of a bogus charity), a cocaine dealer and the daughter of a devout Christian man who is dying. She is not sorry for him: she is the one who cut his penis. A flashback shows the devout Christian father beating her because of her obscene body. She became a sociopath who killed her first lover and one day went on a rampage in her high school. After being released from juvenile prison, she found her father lying unconscious on his bed having suffered a stroke. Ironically, he was having an erection. She tried to kill him by having sex with his erected penis, but the man didn't die. She then decided to let him leave but took his penis (in a gruesome scene). She was later approached by the founder of the Zero Church and joined the cult. When she met Yu, she instantly got fascinated by him. She began to follow him and spy his every move. She found out about his fasther and the confessions. She told the Zero Church that her plan was to convert Yu's respected Catholic family.
The third chapter introduces Yoko. She grew up with fits of fainting and one day Kaori decided to adopted her (Yoko is actually ex-lover's daughter). Kaori takes Yoko to a dance club where Yoko is fascinated to hear a tv reportage on Aya's killing of her fellow students. A flashback shows that Yoko is just another girl abused by her father as a child. Yoko calls her father a "horny asshole". He had many lovers and eventually Kaori showed up. She is a violent girl who gets into fights for fun: she especially hates men, all men, and trains to be able to kick them and punch them. She makes a living demolishing houses, a job that makes her hysterically happy. Kaori gave her the New Testament and Yoko discovered that Jesus was even more cool than her favorite rock singer. Yoko has a recurring nightmare in which she protects a child who is her younger self from a vampyre who is actually her father. We see that Aya was already stalking them, always flanked by her two friends. We now see the scene in which Kaori visits Yu's father at the church and begs for him to forgive her and take her back. Yu's father initially rejects her, but she drives after him and rams into his car shouting that she loves him until she causes a major accident in which he almost dies. And he finally takes her back. Yoko is not amused: the last thing she wants is a family. Yu's father moves back with Yu and that's when his father became gentle again and when Yu saw Kairo again. Then, dressed like a woman, Yu met Yoko and helped her fight the thugs.
The fourth chapter starts from that fight again. Yu and Yoko defeat the boys. Yoko is ecstatic to have met her heroine, except that Yu Sasori ("Miss Scorpion") for her. The wind blows her skirt up and Yu has his first erection. His friends remind him that he has to kiss her, and he kisses her. He runs to the church to pray to and thank the Virgin Mary. She walks around in shock, because she is finally fallen in love. Yoko is proud to have his first hard-on. They both dream of each other in their rooms. Nonetheless Yu and his three friends continue to take pictures of girls' panties around the city. Aya suddenly approaches him, just to say "hi". Then, incredibly, Yoko is introduced her a new student in Yu's class, except that she does not recognize Yu because he is dressed normally, like a boy, not like "Miss Scorpion". At home Yoko is suddenly kind to Kaori, not hostile anymore to her marriage plans: she is more interested in knowing whether she herself has become a lesbian. In school she ignores and rejects Yu, who hopes in vain that she would recognize Sasori in him. A desperate Yu realizes that his only hope to seduce Yoko is to continue to impersonate Sasori. His father organizes a dinner with Kaori at which the adults formally announce the wedding to the teenagers. Yoko is annoyed at the idea that Yu will become her step-brother. Yu realizes that the marriage will turn Yoko into his step-sister. Kaori and Yoko move in with Yu and his father. Yoko calls Sasori and, not knowing she is talking to Yu, tells "her" how awful Yu is. We see that Aya has been eavesdropping on all their phone calls. Yu's father is a changed man, sorry that he tortured his son in the past, and doesn't want any more sin confessions from him. Because of a promise she made to Sasori on the phone, Yoko actually tries to be a good sister to Yu, except that she keeps talking to him about Sasori. A new student joins Yu's and Yoko's class: Aya. Yu is terrified to see her. And she asks to sit next to him in the classroom. Suddenly thugs enter the classroom armed with knives, looking for Sasori. Yu only has time to stand up that Aya pushes him away and announces that she is Sasori. She then single-handedly defeats the thugs (who are actually her own men) in front of an ecstatic Yoko. Aya can now easily seduce Yoko and Yu spies them powerless while they kiss. Aya even offers to help Yoko every day with homework, and starts coming over to stir up Yu's jealousy. She de facto becomes part of the family and starts having dinner with all of them while secretely having sex with Yoko in her room. Aya threatens Yu with telling everybody about his panty photos if he tells them that Aya is not Sasori. Yu retaliates by summoning Yoko to a meeting in the park and telling her that Aya is a phony. Yoko is puzzled. Then Yu takes off his mask and reveals is real identity. Yoko runs away scared and Yu realizes he made a colossal mistake. At home Aya smiles: whatever her plan is, things are moving along according to it. Aya distributes Yu's panty photos around class, thus destroying his reputation. Yu gets expelled from school. Aya also shows Yoko footage of Yu taking acrobatic pictures. At home his father beats him as he proclaims in vain his love to Yoko. Yoko calls him pervert and spits on his face while Aya smiles. Aya accuses Yu's father and Kaori of being responsible for having created such a pervert in Yu, and that's how she plans to convert them to the Zero Church. Yu runs screaming into the streets, later consoled by his three criminal friends. When he finally returns home days later, the home is empty. At the church they don't know what happened to his father.
Yu is desperate to find out where Yoko went. Finally Aya calls and tells him that he can see Yoko again if he accepts a job at a porn company. His three friends are excited because it means becoming professionals. But the company is not happy with them just taking panty photos and Yu has no intention of having sex with any girl other than Yoko. He ends up playing the priest who confesses the perverts in a porn show, reenacting his father's role for a crowd of lusting men. Aya's two female bodyguards show up with a video of Yoko herself confessing her sin (of having been a lesbian). When a cultist attempts suicide, Yu finds out on the television news where Yoko is. He looks for help from priests, but the priests admit that they are powerless to deprogram cultists who are already in the second stage of brainwashing as Yoko is. Yu and his three friends kidnap Yoko, who behaves like a zombie. They load her in a van and drive to a remote beach location, where Yu tries in vain to restore her senses. As soon as she gets a chance, she runs away call him a pervert. She recites "Corinthians 13" to him about true love. She still believes he lied about being Sasori. He has to tie her with a rope to stop her and bring her back to the van. Eventually Aya and her girls, leading a group of men of the Zero Church, find them. They beat up the four boys, free Yoko and Aya offers Yoko a knife to cut off Yu's penis but Yoko cannot do it. Aya then decides to take him to the Zero Church and heal him of the hard-on that he always gets when he sees Yoko. After proper treatment he is healed: Yoko lifts her skirt showing her panty and Aya verifies that Yu did not get a hard-on. Aya now plays with his psyche, provoking him sexually. Yu seems to be perfectly integrated in the cult but in reality he has a plan. One day he jumps into action: first he kills the cult's founder (another gruesome scene), then morphes into Sasori and pulls out a sword. He roams the building where novices are being brainwashed, chased by men in black through the white corridors, passing zombies dressed in white. Finally he finds the white room where Aya and Yu's family are having dinner. As he enters the room, he kills a few of the men who are chasing him, but Aya orders the others to let him free. Indifferent to the carnage he has caused (and in fact annoyed by one of her men who is taking too long to die), Aya makes fun of him. It is all pointless: his former family members cannot be brought back from the state in which they are. His parents are ashamed of him, Yoko cries. Yu tries in vain to wake up Yoko. His own parents restrain him, and Yoko doesn't want him. He keeps repeating "I love you" while Yoko tries to strangle him. Aya tells Yoko to finish him and breaks the statuette of the Virgin Mary that Yu always carries with him. Desperate, he blows up a bomb to attract the police. When the police arrive, they arrest him. Yoko is hysterical. Aya is laughing at Yu's pathetic attempts to awake his parents. She crouches on the floor, grabs Yu's sword and slowly pushes through her body. A bird comes out of her sweater. Her two female bodyguards are terrified that she committed suicide. The police take Yu away. After an enigmatic shot of Yu and his family carrying a giant concrete cross, the last chapter opens with tv reporters discussing the bomb attack at Zero Church's headquarters. Yu's father and Kaori are happy, recovering. Yoko moves in with relatives and becomes a normal girl. Yu is locked in a mental asylum, where he has become his doppelganger Sasori, often attacking his fellow inmates. Yoko witnesses what love and heartbreak do to her little cousin, who sleeps in the same room with her. This simple girl's love makes Yoko realize that what Yu felt for her was true love. Yoko visits the asylum but Yu, dressed like Sasori, does not recognize her. Yoko calls him her brother and hugs him but the only result if to cause him an epileptic fit. The hospital's staff tries to drag her away but she is determined to save Yu the same way he saved her from the cult. Yu is about to remember when the police take Yoko away. Yu calms down but is still trembling. He sees his face reflected in a mirror, and then the mirror reflects the panties that he is wearing (probably the ones he stole from Yoko). He remembers his mother, the statuette of the Virgin Mary, the fight with the thugs alongside Yoko and when the wind blew up Yoko's skirt... and he has a massive erection. Yu gets rid of his Sasori costume and runs after the police car that is taking Yoko away. She stops the car and he breaks the window to grab her hand.

Chanto Tsutaeru/ Be Sure to Share (2009) is a psychological drama about the relationship between a young man and his father who is dying of cancer.

Tsumetai Nettaigyo/ Cold Fish (2010) is a mediocre horror movie.

The psychological thriller Koi no Tsumi/ Guilty of Romance (2011), the story of a well-respected educated woman who falls into a spiral of self-degradation, feels like a cross of Bunuel's Belle de Jour and of Hitchcock's Psycho. It is the concluding film in Sono's "Hate" trilogy after Love Exposure and Cold Fish. Of course this is also a film noir that indulges in depicting the moral decadence of the protagonist and of the people around her (even the police detective is an unstable woman, although the shorter version of the film removes most of the scenes that show her lusty secret life). Sono's films contain a vast gallery of dysfunctional characters who were abused as children by their parents. This time the deranged mind is not the victim of child abuse but a girl who wanted to be abused and was rejected by her father.

There is a radical change of scenes in the first few minutes. The film opens in the red-light district Maruyama-cho. Police detectives, led by a woman, Yoshida, have discovered a grisly murder: two corpses have been cut up and then reassembled using mannequin parts. Then we see a classy apartment with a polite young wife, Izumi, who welcomes her husband home. Then an audience listening to an author (her husband) reading from his erotic novel. Izumi is a frustrated housewife whose life is reduced to a sterile routine. Her husband, a famous novelist, leaves precisely at the same time every day and comes back precisely at the same time every evening, so she knows exactly when to open the door (and prepare his slippers). She suffers from insomnia, but, mostly, from neglect. She is left home alone in the classy apartment with nothing to do. He hardly shows any affection for her. He is an obsessed perfectionist who treats her like a servant. He is famous for his romantic stories but the life he grants his wife is the exact opposite of "romantic". One day she tries to work at a supermarket. She is too shy to succeed. Her boss seems interested in her looks, not in her performance. One day the owner of a modeling agency discovers her and talks her into trying a photo session. It doesn't take long for the photo session to turn into a porn video session during which she has to engage in sex with a male actor. She is ashamed but goes along with it. Then at home she stares at her naked body in the mirror and feels happy, pretending that she is at the supermarket selling her body instead of sausages. Her performance at the supermarket improves as she now is more confident about summoning customers to her sausages. Even her husband likes the change, finding her a sexier woman. She starts offering herself enthusiastically to the porn video shootings. And then one day at the supermarket she even offers herself to a young attractive man and they have sex in the restrooms. Somehow her sex acts mirror the erotic stories told by her husband in his books. At home she is still the perfect wife, smiling gently at her husband as if she were still a virgin. One day she meets a young man who behaves like a clown, Kaoru, and sprays her with red paint (we see the red paint also on the camera). He talks philosophically about everybody being on a quest to find an allegorical Castle, a story he learned from a female friend of his. He wants her to say she's a whore while he takes her in a love motel. Later he turns violent, and forces her to call her husband and tell him that she'll be late. He takes her from behind while she's still talking to her husband. She hangs up and enjoys the sex. He introduces her to the Castle woman, Mitsuko, an experienced prostitute...
The film returns to the murder scene. The detectives find that a woman has been reported missing for more than a week, Mitsuko. They are sure she is not a call girl because she is a 39-years old associate professor at the university who lives with her mother after her distinguished father died.
Back to the red-light district, Izumi meets the mystery woman of the Castle, who is Mitsuko. Mitsuko knows her husband the writer. Izumi mentions that her husband is a pure soul. Mitsuko replies that her father was also a pure soul (thus equating her father to a husband). It was her father who told her about the Castle that people cannot enter, no matter how hard they try. Izumi is torn. She is desperate, she is psychologically lost. Mitsuko reveals herself to be a (Western-looking) street hooker and shows Izumi how to pick up a man in the street. Izumi alone walks behind them and spies as Mitsuko undresses herself.
Back to the murder scene, the police find out that there is only one corpse: head and limbs were removed and then stitched back together with mannequin parts to create two bodies. And it was a woman.
Mitsuko is reciting a poem at university. Izumi is in the audience. (By now it is obvious that this is a flashback). Contrary to what the police thinks, Mitsuko well-respected scholar did live a double life.
Izumi and Mitsuko become friends and Mitsuko has no problem inviting Izumi to her university. Kaoru, Mitsuko has sex wth a stdent in front of Izumi in the restrooms. Then she changes into the whore. In private, we see that Mitsuko, while painting her face in front of the mirror, i.e. mutating from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde, reminisces sadly that a man named Shinsuke is dead. Then Mitsuko takes Izumi to the street and tells her to follow her with her customers to an abandoned apartment. Mitsuko picks up two men, then offers Izumi to one of the two. Izumi is initially reluctant, but then, again, accepts. When the men try to refuse to pay Mitsuko the correct amount for two prostitutes, she does not hesitate to pull out a knife and threaten to slit the throat of one of them. Mitsuko slaps and scolds Izumi for being such a wimp (she's crying). Back home Izumi literally rapes her husband on the floor. The "modeling" agency call her again but then they are shocked by how furious her sex performance is this time. Mitsuko taught her to always ask for money and she does not sleep with men for free anymore. Then we see Izumi writing the last entry in the journal. She visits Mitsuko at the university again. Mitsuko reintroduces Izumi to Kaoru the clown who offers her stable work. Mitsuko takes them to her mother's place. Her mother, a respectable woman who was married to a respectable painter, knows all about her second life. They drink tea politely with mother, and mother politely asks how the sex trade is going. She seems delighted that Izumi joined the Kaoru's operations. Then the mother jokes that maybe someone should kill both her and her daughter to spare them future disgrace. Kaoru runs a classy brothel, the Enchantress Club, with his partner Okubo, and both wear bowler hats all the time. They consider Mitsuko a cheap low-grade whore (she's not young anymore), and offer her typically to new customers, hoping that the new customer would then upgrade to a more expensive girl. That's what exactly what happened. A new customer calls, they dispatch Mitsuko, the customer calls back dissatisfied, they dispatch Izumi, renamed Yoko, accompanied by Kaoru. When they arrive, however, Mitsuko has prevailed and the customer complains that she has raped him. Yoko/Izumi recognizes the customer: her husband! But he does not recognize her because she is wearing a wig and sunglasses. She realizes that he gets inspiration for his novels from prostitutes like Mitsuko. Izumi is initially shocked but then proceeds to have wild sex with her husband without even undressing. Mitsuko wathes amused. For the first time Izumi sees her husband behave like an animal. Then she takes her sunglasses off and he recognizes her. And now Izumi demands to be paid. The husband throws money at her and kicks both girls out. Mitsuko tells Izumi that she has had sex with her husband many times before. Mitsuko teases both spouses by banging on the husband's door and asking to have sex again; and sure enough he finally opens the door. Kaoru takes Izumi inside to watch Mitsuko and her husband making furious love. Izumi cries. Mitsuko says that he likes to get strangled a bit and shows Izumi how to do it. Mitsuko confesses that she knew the man long before he got married, that she's always helped him with his writing. Mitsuko, the husband and Kaoru all burst out launghing.
At the murder scene the detectives have found human remains in the mother's house. She candidly confesses that she cut off her daughter's indecent parts. The mother confesses that she hid and followed her daughter. Flashbacks to many years earlier show that Mitsuko as a young girl was obsessed sexually with her father. He was the Castle that she could not enter. Mitsuko loses control and confesses all of this to Izumi. Izumi realizes that Mitsuko is not the strong independent soul that she pretends to be but is a pitiful woman. Mitsuko retorts that Izumi is looking for her Castle too. Mitsuko begs Izumi to stab her to death in order to end the pain. Kaoru is watching them amused. And Mitsuko's mother is watching all them outside the house...
The mother confesses to the female detective, Yoshida, that somebody helped her kill and cut off the indecent parts. We see the scene of when the mother arrives, finding Mitsuko who is fighting with Izumi. The mother incites Izumi to strangle Mitsuko, and Kaoru somehow obeys the mother's orders, but ultimately it is the old woman who pulls out a knife. It is not clear who actually finishes off Mitsuko but it is clear who the instigator is.
Back to the mother's home: the police find mannequins and paintings of a naked woman (Mitsuko) signed Shinsuke... her father's name. Then the mother suddenly commits suicide.
Izumi walks alone to the sea and stares at the horizon. Two children stare at her. She becomes a professional prostitute and takes Mitsuko's place at having sex with her husband outside the house. She gets beaten in a dark alley by two men and seems almost happy.

Himizu (2011) was the adaptation of Minoru Furuya's manga.

Kibo nu Kuni/ The Land of Hope (2012), inspired by the nuclear disaster of Fukushima, is a social drama focusing on the effects of a natural catastrophe on an ordinary family living in a farming community.

Jigoku de Naze Warui/ Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2013) is a mixture of gangster movie and madcap comedy, whose loose screenplay and casual acting seem to be poking fun at every possible stereotype of the genres.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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