Nippon cult director Sion Sono’s take on the ‘Roman Porno’ subgenre is a colorfully abstract anti-sexploitation screed.
Dennis Harvey writes: Tasked with contributing to Nikkatsu’s “Roman Porno Reboot Project” — a salute to the studio’s prolific run of sometimes-adventurous sexploitation features in the 1970s and ’80s — culty latterday director Sion Sono delivers a critique of the genre that’s very tricky in structure, yet in gist as blunt as its title. “Antiporno” has plenty of nudity and (non-graphic) sexual content. Nonetheless, viewers seeking titillation are much less likely to be satisfied than those who’ll appreciate this surreal, aesthetically bold gizmo as the latest left-turn in its creator’s idiosyncratic career.
On vainglorious display in the unnatural habitat of her bright-yellow loft apartment, Kyoto (Ami Tomite) is a writer/artist who acts and is treated more like a spoiled pop star. A typical day full of interviews, photo shoots, TV appearances and meetings begins as she’s woken by older personal assistant Noriko (Mariko Tsutsui). She treats the latter with an abusive contempt that often spills into the realm of stock S&M fetish play, complete with “Bark like a dog!” episodes.
The arrival of various fawning acolytes and mass-media enablers only heightens Kyoto’s bratty excesses. At the same time, however, she has moments of panicked self-doubt, as well as presumably delusional communication with a dead sister (also Tstusui) who’s in “heaven.” Trapped in her celebrity, Kyoto is in another, soul-destroying place entirely, from which there’s no apparent escape.
Yet at the half-hour mark, this repetitive upscale nightmare is jarred by “Cut!,” revealing that our protagonists are simply performers on a set where their dynamic is flipped — the actress playing Noriko mercilessly belittles “Kyoto,” who may simply be an inexperienced thespian having a rough time on her “big break.” Or perhaps she’s the personification of all showbiz womankind, living out a kind of pinku “No Exit” (or “Groundhog Day”) in which sex is both an elusive goal and a shameful burden.
Eventually Kyoto’s looping reality takes her back to the inevitable schoolgirl days (and uniform), when her parents instilled a sense of deep erotic shame while hypocritically, loudly taking every possible opportunity to enjoy intercourse. The teen’s rebellion took the form of a desperate audition for a sex film at age 18. Notions of suicide and incest also surface amid conflicted feelings that scenarist Sono doesn’t exactly soft-pedal. “I’m a virgin, but a whore … a whore, but a virgin. I must be one or the other!” our heroine shrills at one point, while elsewhere she reveals his larger thesis by exclaiming, “No woman in this nation can master freedom!”
Strip away all its Chinese-box toyings with time, reality and identity, and “Antiporno” is a pretty simple articulation of the sexually objectified female as victim. It doesn’t seem even a theoretical possibility that Kyoto might learn to own her sexuality, let alone the genre she’s stuck in. For all its eventual sympathy for her plight … (read more)
Director: Sion Sono With: Ami Tomite, Mariko Tstusui, Fujiko, Sayaka Kotani, Tomo Uchino, Hirari Ikeda, Ami, Saki, Yuya Takayama, Mana Yoshimuta, Ami Fukuda.
1 hour 16 minutes