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Review: Antiporno

How does one begin to describe a movie like Antiporno? Well, it certainly helps to have a basic understanding of Roman Porno, a more “prestigious” sub-category of pinku eiga (Japanese soft-core skin flicks) developed by the Nikkatsu Corporation in the early 1970s. I’m hardly an expert on the subject (American distributors aren’t exactly in a rush to import examples), but from what I’ve gathered, they represented a deliberate effort to utilize plot, characterization, and high production values in order to elevate the erotic content. Of course, director Sion Sono (who also helmed such offbeat masterpieces as Suicide Club and Noriko’s Dinner Table) doesn’t know the meaning of the word “straightforward”; thus, his contribution to the genre flips many of the traditional tropes and conventions upside down, transforming them into little more than a vehicle for his unique brand of psychological horror and absurdist humor.

Our heroine is Kyoko, a revered writer/painter/fashion icon grappling with the burden of her own success. Haunted by the specter of her dead sister, surrounded by false friends that only value her fame, and desperate to exert some measure of control in a suffocatingly repressive society, she ruthlessly lashes out against her hopelessly submissive assistant, humiliating, degrading, and sexually tormenting the older woman in front of an eager audience of journalists and photographers.

In case my synopsis didn’t make it obvious, allow me to spell it out for you: Antiporno is about as subtle as a pie to the face, from its themes (selling one’s talents is akin to prostitution, celebrity culture is inherently dehumanizing and corrupt) to its set design (four bright yellow walls, a blue bed in the corner, a red bathroom off to one side, and a door that opens into a white hallway). Gradually, however, it becomes clear that this artificiality is intentional; “Kyoko,” you see, is actually a meek amateur actress in a low-budget pornographic film, and her “assistant” is the more experienced costar that verbally abuses her in between botched takes. Or is this yet another layer of the delusion? Is the camera crew a mere alcohol-induced figment of our mentally-ill protagonist’s imagination? As the line between fantasy and reality blurs beyond recognition, the narrative evolves into one of Sono’s trademark meditations on identity, agency, and the illusive nature of freedom. The result is artistic enough to transcend its surface-level vulgarity… but self-aware enough to avoid feeling overly pretentious.

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