Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The Sion Sono (5 Stars)

"Life isn't about good and bad. Paint, express and live! That's good". (Sion Sono, February 2015).

This is a remarkable documentary. Maybe I'm just biased because I'm fascinated by the subject of the documentary, the director Sion Sono. I always find it difficult to judge documentaries, in contrast to normal films. If it's a subject that doesn't interest me I won't give a documentary a high rating, however good it might be. If it's a subject I already know a lot about I judge it on whether it accurately portrays what I already know. If it's a subject I don't know much about I judge it on the amount of new information I'm given. "The Sion Sono" falls into the latter category. He's my favourite director, but I know almost nothing about him.

The full documentary is included as an extra feature on the English Blu-ray release of "Whispering Star". That's appropriate. The documentary follows Sion Sono through the making of "Whispering Star" from October 1st 2014 to September 2nd 2015, mixed with interviews with his friends, family and colleagues.

"Whispering Star" is a film that Sion Sono conceived when he was 27. He was born on December 18th 1961, so he was 52 when he began to make it. He had a thick book of detailed pictures for the  storyboard which he'd kept for 25 years. He was inspired to finally make the film after the Fukushima disaster of March 11th 2011. He made no changes to the story, but he used the ghost town of Fukushima as the location for all the planets that Yoko visited.

It's not the only film that Sion Sono made after a long delay. "Love and Peace" and "Why don't you play in Hell" were also written 20 years before he filmed them.

Sion Sono isn't just a film director, he's also a competent artist. The large paintings that are shown in Kyoko's apartment in "Antiporno" were painted by him. He likes to paint to relax.

Are his paintings good or bad? That's a question Sion Sono asks the interviewer when they're in his studio. Sion takes an empty canvas, approximately six feet tall, and draws a black line on it. Then he attempts, unsuccessfully, to wipe the line out with his hands. He draws thick lines over it with green paint. Then he spits beer onto the canvas and smudges the image with his hands. He asks the interviewer if it's a good painting. The interviewer discreetly answers that he doesn't know. So Sion shows the interviewer another canvas that he's been working on for six months. It just has indistinct images and dates. "Is this a good painting?" he asks the interviewer, who's now bold enough to answer No. Sion throws the canvas across the room, then punches it with his fists that are still covered with green paint. That leads to the quote from the beginning of this review:

"Life isn't about good and bad. Paint, express and live! That's good". (Sion Sono, February 2015).

That's a significant quote, because it's repeated at the end of the film. It's applied to his films, somewhat unfairly. His films are definitely good, but Sion accepts that some people might not like them. At an awards ceremony he says that his motto is "Quantity over Quality", and goes on to say:

"Quality makes people cautious. I go for quantity so I can advance. I just keep making things and one of them might be good".

Is that false modesty or the true motivation of a genius? I think it's a mixture of the two. I'm sure that he knows his films are good. He wants to create films that will inspire people.

The disorder in his studio mirrors his mind. It's filled with chaos and paintings which very few people would call good. That's the secret area which is hidden from the world. What the public sees is the high quality artwork on display in "Antiporno".

I learnt something from the documentary that is important for my understanding of Sion Sono. His films are divided into two groups: the films that he wrote himself, and the films written by other people. He feels most connected to the films that he wrote himself. He mentions that he's been asked to make a film called "Virgin Psychics", which he's dreading. He doesn't even want to read the script. This might give the impression that it's a bad film, but he then says that he works harder when he doesn't feel connected to a film. The result speaks for itself. "Virgin Psychics" is just as good as his other films, maybe even better.

The relationship between Sion and his wife, shown posing for a painting, is just as unorthodox as everything else in his life. They met when she was acting in his film "Cold Fish". She says he was very hard on her, so hard that she feels she will have a mental breakdown when she thinks about her experiences. When the interviewer asked her for details she burst into tears. And yet they fell in love and married. What is it about this man that enthrals all around him? His real life persona is just as erratic as the films he makes.

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