Very few directors developed themselves like Sion Sono. It took him almost 30 years to fully blossom and now that he finally has, he's really making the best of it. 2015 was a miracle year for Sono (with no less than 5 films released), 2016 is looking a bit more timid in comparison. Quantity-wise that is, because Antiporno [Anchiporuno] is up there with the very best Sono ever directed. Probably not for everyone, but if you're into weird and showy Sono, I'm pretty certain this one isn't going to disappoint.
Antiporno is part of Nikkatsu's Roman Porno Reboot, a project set up to celebrate its 45th birthday. Nikkatsu's Roman Porno concept is what kept the company afloat after the studio nearly went broke in the late 60s (Seijun Suzuki's projects being one of the main culprits). Strapped for cash, Nikkatsu began the production of pinku films. With a few simple rules (no longer than 1 week of shooting, no going over budget, between 70 ad 80 minutes and at least one nude scene every 10 minutes) Nikkatsu offered their directors full creative freedom, carte blanche to do whatever they liked. Needless to say, a lot of first-time directors saw this as their way into the movie business.
Nikkatsu's formula proved highly successful and during the following 17 years they would produce well above 1000 titles in the series. A lot of now-famous directors started out working in some way or another on these films, Nikkatsu picked 5 of them to commemorate this special niche. Hideo Nakata, Akihiko Shiota, Kazuya Shiraishi and Isao Yukisada were all given a chance to pay their tribute, but it was Sion Sono's feature that people were eying the most.
Antiporno revolves around a young writer/artist (Kyoko) at the peak of her success. In the process of writing a novel, she locks herself up, brings over models to paint and then uses these paintings as inspiration for her writing. She has a secretary who keeps track of her daily agenda, but also doubles as Kyoko's primary care taker. Kyoko lives like a haughty creative, with little regard to other people's feelings, but not everything is as it seems.
Sono was only given a week and a small budget to work with, but that's where all his years of experience helped him out. No two ways about it, Antiporno looks downright gorgeous. Shot mostly on a single location, Sono uses bright, vibrant colors and playful camera work to give the film the needed flair. Lush set designs, strong lighting and slick editing make the experience complete. It's remarkable what he accomplishes on a shoestring budget, just more proof that talent always trumps money.
The soundtrack is also vintage Sono. A decent but simple original score augmented with a selection of popular classical pieces. While that in itself isn't worth a lot, the way Sono contrasts these pieces with the onscreen action is pretty cool. The music lends a certain class to subject matter that isn't classy at all, while the subject matter provides the music with a certain edge that's never been there before. It's not the first time Sono has done this of course, but it still works wonders.
Leads in roman porno films are rarely cast for their acting talent, yet Sono needed more than a pretty face to make the film successful. Sono regular Ami Tomite does a commendable job in a part that requires her to quickly morph between different states of her character. It's a demanding, but she made it work. Mariko Tsutsui is good as Tomite's polar opposite, the rest of the cast is solid too, though their parts were clearly less intense.
The film has more than enough artistic merit to stand on its own, but Sono saw his chance fit to straighten out a couple of things. In the past some people (often from the surprisingly uptight Americas) have been quick to dismiss Sono's films as misogynistic, what better film to set them straight than a roman porno revival headliner. And to make absolutely sure everyone gets the message, Sono has his main character explicitly shouting out the bottom line once more at the end of the film, like a certified mad woman. Given the context, an incredibly funny scene, though I'm sure the point is probably still lost on some.
Antiporno is a great example of why Japan's pinku films enjoy such a peculiar status among film fans and why it's been such a fertile breeding ground for young, talented directors. If you're watching the film hoping for some form of titillation, better adjust your expectations because Sono is taking this film into an entirely different direction. With Antiporno, Sono proves once again that he has reached a point where he can make any film interesting. Not sure how long this stretch of raw quality will last, but I for one am hoping Sono can keep this up for some time to come. Antiporno is a zany, extrovert and anything but subtle piece of cinema with the potential to be very divisive. It's not for everybody, but Sono fans are sure to have a blast with this one.