by Jason Suzuki
2015 was a busy year for Shion Sono with five movies being released. It was the year he pulled a Miike and with that quantity comes variable quality. Arata Oshima's portrait of Sono reveals which projects were labors of love and that Sono does indeed believe quantity over quality. Following him during the making of The Whispering Star we get a closer look at the director who has become an international staple for what people program for Japanese film. The film has exciting shades of the short-lived Comedy Central show "I'm with Busey" but instead of the nonsense coming out of Gary Busey's mouth we get a stream of great insights from the filmmaker directed towards Arata and his camera, which in extension is us, presumably fans.
After a brief sit down interview we get the film's true opening which Arata and even Sono himself will return to later to sandwich the documentary: watching Sono prepare for an exhibition of his art. We see him treat a blank canvas like a rag doll, purposefully throwing ugly brushstrokes and rubbing his hands all over it. He relates these intentional "mistakes" to the purity of a schoolgirl. The canvas is too expensive to not treat it roughly and without finesse says Sono. It's a fascinating insight into the man, showcasing his humor and disregard for convention. Oshima (Nagisa Oshima's son in case you were wondering) lets the lesson play out in its entirety because this is the guiding motto of Sono in action.
One of the most revealing moments of the film is when Sono discusses the difficulty he has in taking on some projects. He is not shy to say on camera he doesn't want to read the script for The Virgin Psychics but that he is more invested when it is from his own script. Taking this into account Love and Peace and The Whispering Star are the two from 2015 he put real passion into. He is a man who both gives time for his thoughts and desires immediacy in his work. "Quality makes people cautious," he says when explaining his personal motto for a GQ piece. His recent passion projects including Why Don't You Play in Hell? could have been made twenty years ago had any producer seen his talent. It's useless to imagine what if they had been made when they were first written, which some do in the film, but you cannot deny that the time created better films. The 3/11 aspects to The Whispering Star which are now so integral to the film and its power would not be present at all for instance.
For fans of what just might prove to be his masterwork Why Don't You Play in Hell? will find a few bits here and there to enjoy. We see Sono performing the teeth brushing song live onstage in a punk version that will later show up in Love and Peace. At times Sono will refer to the God of movies. Pictures of him in his youth holding an 8mm film camera will instantly make you think of the young Fuck Bombers at the start of his 35mm opus. Sono is a fuck bomber in all his obsession and passion for art.
Final words of guidance from Sono: Something interesting comes from the rubble of conventions.
The Shion Sono plays Saturday, July 17 at Japan Cuts.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.