Antiporno [JIFF 2017] – Review

Sion Sono's bizarrely amazing Nikkatsu Roman Porno reboot entry.

18th Jeonju International Film Festival
Midnight Cinema

Antiporno (アンチポルノ)

  • Directed by: Sion Sono (園子温)
  • Starring: Ami Tomite (冨手麻妙), Mariko Tsutsui (筒井真理子), Yuya Takayama (貴山侑哉), Fujiko (不二子), Ami Fukuda (福田愛美), Dai Hasegawa (長谷川大)
  • The Film: Kyoko is a renowned and experimental modern artist who writes, paints, and considers herself an exceptional whore…which she interprets as being the pinnacle of sexual enlightenment and a key part of her success. She spends her days seemingly locked in her studio apartment that doubles as her work space and office. One day, Kyoko’s secretary makes a desperate plea to help make her a whore like Kyoko. But when a dissatisfied director suddenly yells “Cut!” in the middle of this indoctrination, the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur and Kyoko’s true self and past become exposed.

Review

It should be noted that Antiporno is part of a revival project to reboot the Roman Porno film by the major Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu. This reboot is to mark the 45th year since the first Nikkatsu Roman Porno a.k.a. “Pink” films began to be made in an attempt to save the studio from bankruptcy in 1971. The studio incentivised directors with more freedom as long as their films were: shot in under one week, had a total running time below 80 minutes, stayed on budget, and had a sex scene every 10 minutes. The last film of this series was made in 1988. This reboot project features these same regulations and are directed by some of Japan’s leading directors. The other directors participating in this project include Hideo Nakata (The Ring, 1998), Akihiko Shiota (Yomigaeri, 2003), Kazuya Shiraishi (The Devil’s Path, 2013), and Isao Yukisada (Go, 2001).

After the magnum opus that was writer/director Sion Sono’s 2015 kaiju rock ‘n’ roll love story, Love & Peace, it was hard to imagine where his next project might take him. I thought, what did Francis Ford Coppola make after Apocalypse Now? Without a break, Sono’s following films came quick and were indeed much smaller and very experimental. Tag (2015) saw a divided world of men and women that ultimately had a kind of meta-world controlled by men who used women for their pleasure and entertainment in a video game-like way. The Whispering Star (2015) was a quiet and meditative piece that dealt with time and the impermanence of existence.

Antiporno is more in the same vein as Tagand it seems to further expand on the concept of a gender divided world that is ultimately controlled by men. Like Tag, nearly all the characters are women, and in this world, being completely honest and expressive of one’s sexuality is a virtue to be admired. From Kyoko’s secretary’s wish to become a great whore like Kyoko that has her willing to strip on command and bark like a dog, to her photographer’s lesbian assistants dressed like they came straight off a gay pride parade float, everything regarding sexuality in Antiporno is taken way over-the-top and to the extreme by these women.

—Minor Plot Spoilers—

When a film director suddenly yells “Cut!” and an all-male film crew is revealed to have been filming a movie this whole time and the women all turn out to be actresses in a kind of arty smut film, Antiporno begins to become self-reflexive and the first notions of coherence begin to take form. Until this point, Antiporno is purely exploitative cinema sticking true to its Roman Porno guidelines. But of course in pure Sono form, the layers begin to appear.

Kyoko (Ami Tomite) is revealed to be a young actress cast in a leading role in which the filmmakers and other cast members harshly criticize her acting abilities and treat her very poorly. She goes from the boss of all the women to the laughing stock who just can’t get things right. When Kyoko’s personal history is uncovered, we learn of her adolescent sexual curiosity and how her view of sex was at odds with what society and her parents would want her to believe. When she is told that sex is obscene, shameful, and not to be talked about openly, she becomes deeply troubled after witnessing her parents enjoying these carnal pleasures on several occasions. How could the physical embodiment of love and passion be so shameful publicly yet so important and privately enjoyed as if some great secret she wasn’t allowed to be in on? This triggers a rebellion in Kyoko and she begins to actively seek out answers to this mysterious problem of sex.

—End Spoilers—

In Antiporno, all this sexual repression leads to rebellion, which could partly explain the success of Japan’s multi-billion dollar porn industry. Sono suggests that this, coupled with a male-dominated society in Japan, has primed an environment that attracts young women to a porn industry with the dreams of making it big and being enlightened in this secret world of forbidden pleasures, equivocating it with high art to be enjoyed and made by men.

The first half of Antiporno could be interpreted as Kyoko’s view of herself as a young AV actress, living a life full of glamour and prestige. Yet she comes off as deeply troubled below the surface, even suicidal, as a traumatic experience from her past can not be shaken. The second half of the film represents the dark reality of Kyoko’s situation that doesn’t set in with her until it is too late. She has become lost in a world with no clear way out, representing the countless adult video actress who have gone down this unforgiving path.

With as much nudity and sexual content present in Antiporno, it is ingenious how director Sono has made a film to be so critical of society’s views on sex and the porn industry in Japan all the while being a Roman Porno film itself. While there aren’t a lot of clear suggestions on how to make a better society, the film emphasizes the important role women will take it reshaping it through their ever growing voice that must no longer be drowned out by all the men. Antiporno wants you to be uncomfortable, and you probably will be. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then I can assure you will be in for one highly-stylized plunge into the deep corners of the mind that deal with sex, art, love, and the pendulum effects of repressing desire. Expression always wins, in whatever form it ultimately takes.

Trailer


 

Categories
JapaneseReview
One Comment

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  • Joe
    6 December 2017 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Just finished the film, and I agree with your review. It was very visceral. I t definitely gives you a lot to think about.




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