Literature, sexual profligacy and pink paint make for strange bedfellows in the dark, wantonly risque Japanese crimer “Guilty of Romance.” Pic is the closing seg in the (only thematically connected) “Hate” trilogy of Japanese cult director Sion Sono, after 2009’s “Love Exposure” and last year’s “Cold Fish.” Kafkaesque storytelling, which intertwines the stories of three women grappling with sex for money and murder, is again inspired by fact, but the feverish imagery remains the director’s own. Despite a muddled ending, this will be a “Guilty” pleasure for the helmer’s fans and genre aficionados, though it won’t broaden Sono’s niche appeal.
Version shown on the Croisette is an indulgent director’s cut that’s almost 2 1/2 hours long. Buyers in the market and regular auds in Japan will be shown a shorter edit that comes in at just under two hours.
Gushing water and a generally noirish atmosphere, speckled with garish splashes of neon-colored lights, dominate the film right from the prologue, in which pretty detective Yoshida (Miko Mizuno) is spied having sex with her secret lover in a no-tell motel. In an impressively choreographed sequence, she moves from the motel to a crime scene in the same seedy district. Once there, she finds two human-shaped creations that combine parts of a mannequin with the corpse of a woman. Splotches of fluorescent pink paint are on the walls.
Pic’s first of four chapters is named after Izumi (Megumi Kagurazaka), the busty housewife of a novelist (Kanji Tsuda) who leaves each morning and comes back home at night exactly 12 hours later. Sono infuses her bored-housewife routine with some light humor, notably after Izumi takes a job as a sausage girl — no kidding — in a supermarket to keep herself busy during the day. Through an unexpected chain of events, she finds herself in “Belle de jour” territory not much later.
The second chapter, “The Castle,” continues Izumi’s story but also returns to Yoshida, who tries to steer clear of her extramarital lover’s more insistent demands as she advances on the murder case. (Her investigation has been severely pruned in the film’s shorter version.)
Next chapter is named after the third protag, university literature professor Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi), also a prostitute, who takes Izumi under her wing and teaches her, by laboriously discussing words and their meaning, that it’s empowering to demand money for sex if no love’s involved.
The chapter, as well as the fourth, “The Enchantress Club,” try to tie all the loose ends together, but despite some great individual scenes — including an alternately tense and hilarious visit to Mitsuko’s mom (Hisako Ohkata) — there are too many twists, insignificant literary references and drawn-out scenes of sex and violence to sustain either the pic’s running time or its ideas, with Sono’s message obscured in the final reels by an ambiguous treatment of his leading ladies.
Femme thesps, including Kagurazaka (“Cold Fish”), are extremely game. Though female nudity — including pubic hair, still uncommon in Japan — is plentiful, sex scenes stop short of the hardcore content fans had been buzzing about online.
Technically, the pic looks slick, with the helmer’s customary attention paid to color and the omnipresent score, a cello and piano combo that manages at once to be loud and melancholy.