Review for Antiporno
Censorship and regulation has become meaningless in the age of information. More pornographic content than you could ever hope to consume is available at a click of a mouse, and you might have thought that we’d finally begin to lose our hang-ups, our sense of moral panic at the idea of sex. That obviously hasn’t happened, and is probably a subject for another review. Things were a lot different when I was a hormonal teen, back when magazines and fifth generation copies of pirate videotapes were furtively passed around school-yards. I developed a prudishness and a tendency to smirk that has stayed with me ever since, and probably makes me the last person to be reviewing Antiporno, Third Window Films’ latest release, and the concluding part of their Sion Sono month.
Antiporno, although it dates from 2016, comes from a tradition 40 years older than that, and from an era before my teen years, before the democratisation that VHS brought, back when sex was still a province of the cinema screen. In the UK, that meant conforming to the dictates of film censorship. That meant documentaries about naturists, about healthy living, and on the other side of the coin, the sex comedy (where the sex act was usually sped up for humorous effect).
Japan’s film industry had a similar period in the seventies, when film production shifted to soft-core pornography to keep punters coming in, although constrained by censorship concerns; they had to be discreet about what was on screen, supplemented by narrative, character, and artistic license. They split into various genres, Pink Eiga, Pinky Violence, and the Nikkatsu studio with their bigger budgets created the Roman Porno films. You can learn more about these various genres and their meanings in the audio commentary on this disc, but like so many film movements, they wound up being categorised and conforming to set styles and rules. Of course once the VHS era came around, the ‘Pink’ cinema movement faded away, just as the same thing happened in the UK. In 2016, Nikkatsu decided to revive their Roman Porno productions, and began with five feature films, to which they recruited five of the more prominent directors in Japan. It’s odd in genre so guided by the rules, that they enlisted Sion Sono to make this film, Antiporno. Naturally, he tore up the rule book.
Kyoko is an artist, an author with a warped outlook on the world. When her personal assistant Noriko arrives to keep her busy schedule organised, Kyoko takes pleasure in humiliating and sexually degrading Noriko... and then the director yells, ‘Cut!”
Antiporno gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese with optional English subtitles. It’s a bright, Technicolor explosion of a film, rich in colour and unsettling imagery, and in accordance with the title, the sexual content while undeniably erotic, also is unlikely to arouse. The dialogue is clear, the subtitles timed accurately and free of typos, while the surround does what it needs to, to bring the film’s ambience across, as well as the copious use of classical music.
The film presents its content with an animated menu.
You’ll find the aforementioned audio commentary with the film, from Jasper Sharp, author of Behind the Pink Curtain.
The Making of Antiporno lasts 19:15 and is presented in 1080i, with a look behind the scenes, as well as the odd interview snippet.
There is more of an in-depth interview with the film’s star, Ami Tomite, which lasts 26:11 1080i.
The last time I watched an erotic film from Third Window Films, it was Underwater Love, a film that I just couldn’t get to grips with. I had the same feeling with Antiporno, for the first half hour. Kyoko’s this primadonna artist, given to vast pronouncements on the world and her life, whose ritual abuse of her demure yet complicit assistant is both comical and tragic, even more so when an ‘audience’ willing to participate shows up, an interviewer, a photographer and entourage. It makes for unsettling viewing, made more so as the acting is off, histrionic and somewhat amateurish.
By this point I was beginning to wonder if Sion Sono had finally made a bad film, when the fourth wall shatters. A director yells “cut”, and Kyoko is revealed to be a first time actress on a porno shoot, with Noriko the put upon veteran who takes her frustrations out on this rank amateur who somehow landed a starring role. She’s not the only one of the film crew that does so. Instant role reversal, and it’s an instant hook into the film. It’s only the first such perspective shift, as Sion Sono keeps on revisiting the scene, the characters, deconstructing the events to offer commentary and observations on society, on identity, on how the world shapes us.
Antiporno couldn’t be a more appropriate title for the film, as Sono presents a world of women that are constantly defined by men, and confined by men into traditional or expected roles. There is sex in the film, there is nudity in the film, but its purpose is less to arouse than it is to convey a message, to ask the question of who hold the power in these relationships. Is it Kyoko the artist over Noriko the assistant? Is it Noriko the experienced actress over Kyoko the novice? Is it Kyoko the schoolgirl over her family? Is it the fictional director over his performers? And ultimately, is it we the audience? The very nature of the perspective shifts, the layers of reality unpeeling away winds up deconstructing the genre and delving into gender politics. Antiporno becomes a worthy feminist polemic, while the structure of the film borders on the David Lynch.
I have never come across as consistent a filmmaker as Sion Sono before. That’s a surprising thing to say about a director as eclectic as him, someone from whom every new film is different, explores something new. But when I say consistent, I mean that every single Sion Sono film is worth watching, and Antiporno is no exception.