Sion Sono: Portrait
Sion Sono: A Portrait of the Rebel
Sion Sono is one of the most important and influential voices of contemporary Japanese cinema. This independent, subversive filmmaker, exploring the dark sides of the Japanese psyche, boldly uses the most powerful forms and edgy conventions – from the dark grotesque and pop-cultural madness, to the crude, refined minimalism. The program of the section includes six films from different periods of his career, and a unique documentary revealing Sono's lesser-known sides.
Director, performer, screenwriter, poet, painter and musician, with over 50 titles in his filmography, started out from the off, shoestring-budget productions called jisu eiga. His early films, shot on the 8mm tape, are a rough account of a youth's rebellion, but the shaky, punk frames also show a great sensitivity, and a passionate love for cinema, which bursts open the rigid narrative framework. In "I'm Sion Sono!" the young author points his camera at himself, weaving intriguing formal experiments into this egotistic memoir. In "A Man's Flower Road," he plays with the conventions of manga and monster films, combining them with a strikingly honest portrait of his family. Both films were acclaimed at the most important Japanese independent film festival of the 1980s – PIA Film Festival. The copies, retrieved from the festival archive, were restored, allowing the fans to rediscover Sono's early works, the building blocks of his later aesthetics, and to feel the restless spirit of the avaunt-guarde cinema of the decade.
The breakthrough in Sono's career came with the "Suicide Club" from 2001, opening with one of the most shocking scenes in the history of cinema – fifty smiling teenage girls jumping under a suway in Tokyo. The film's striking form and its merciless critique of the Japanese society, gave Sono the reputation of a radical artist who uses extreme measures to touch upon painful subjects. It was further strengthened by his "hate trilogy" - "Love Exposure" (2008), "Cold Fish" (2010, 5th Five Flavours), and "Guilty of a romance" (2011), three eclectic films, made with panache and directorial mastery. Each one was made in a slightly different convention – the first is a perverse picture for the teenagers combined with a sect thriller and a gender-bending revenge story, the second is a brutal psychological slasher with an aquaristic motif, and the third is a dark, emancipation story, ripping off the bourgeois shell from the classic Japanese family film. The grotesque stylistics, violence, brutality, a radical approach to erotics, and subversive, surprising scripts, took the breath away from viewers in Japan and at international festivals, bringing the filmmaker the status of a cult artist. The visual madness, dark humor, and a blaze of pop-cultural references is not all – a closer look at his works reveals Siono's cultural erudition. A wide spectrum of his inspirations spread from the manga master, Osamu Tezuki, though the works of Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Miller, and Villon, to the classics of film avaunt-garde - Godard, Jodorowsky, Oshima, Terayama, to name just the main reference points. The interest in psychoanalysis and Schopenhauer's pessimistic view of the human existence are also a visible part of Sono's works.
Apart from the extreme, Sono's work also includes subtle, lyrical pictures. Most of his recent films belong to the first group, with the fake bloodbath of "Why Don't You Play In Hell," the musical "Tokyo Tribe," and the grotesque, festive "Love & Peace," a reference to kaiju eiga, as just a few examples. In his new production, "The Whispering Star," the filmmaker uses silence, minimalism, and a light narration filled with heavy meanings. As a formal reference to his 1992 "The Room," he reduces the sound and color, inviting the audience for a melancholic, cosmic journey.
The film was shot partly in the Fukushima region, with the inhabitants of the prefecture, affected by the 2011 catastrophe, acting as extras. It is the director's return to the topic of national tragedy, which he already took up in "Himizu" and "The Land of Hope." The works of this versatile author are filled with social and political elements woven into unexpected contexts. One of the examples is the film he made this year - "Antiporno." Filled with vibrant colors, the picture was made as a part of the project reactivating the cult Nikkatsu erotic series. In his take on the subject, Sono played with the expectations of the audience and the premises of the cycle. He also symbolically saluted his heroines - independent, non-stereotypical, strong women, bitterly tried by fate, and yet able to take control of the events. In one of the interviews, the director confirmed that he has nothing against being labeled as a perverse or feminist artist, but these are still only a few of many terms needed to at least get close to describing the unique richness of his works.
1985 I Am Sion Sono! / Ore wa Sono Sion da!!
1986 A Man's Flower Road / Otoko no hanamichi
1992 The Room / Heya
2001 Suicide Club / Jisatsu sakuru
2008 Love Exposure / Ai no mukidashi
2010 Cold Fish / Tsumetai nettaigyo (5th Five Flavours)
2013/1995 Bad movie (7th Five Flavours)
2013 Why Don't You Play in Hell / Jigoku de naze warui (8th Five Flavours)
2014 Tokyo Tribe / Tokyo Toraibu
2015 Love & Peace (9th Five Flavours)
2015 Shinjuku suwan / Shinjuku Swan Kabukicho Skauto Sabaibaru
2015 Tag / Riaru onigokko
2015 The Whispering Star / Hiso hiso boshi
2016 Antiporno / Anchi poruno
Japan 1986, 110’
Japan 2016, 78’
Japan 2011, 144’
Japan 1985, 37’
Japan 2008, 237’
Japan 2016, 97’
Japan 2015, 100’