Sion Sono: Worldwide Man

Is Yorgos Lanthimos the most bizarre director of the 21st century? Not in my book. For me, this title belongs to the one and only Sion Sono. He’s a genius who pushes boundaries of genre, film and art itself, but always undeservedly remains in the shadow of other Asian directors. The level of craziness in his work isn’t to a point of being grotesque or provocative; even if it is, it’s done so flawlessly, it’s not noticeable. No matter how nuts Why Don’t You Play In Hell? or Antiporno gets towards the end, they feel like this was the only way they could have been made.

Unlike directors such as Lars von Trier, who feel like they enjoy torturing their characters, Sono is gentle and humane. A feminist ally in the film industry, an overwhelming amount of his films are dedicated to women and their struggle in a patriarchal world. His films are not just torture porn, it’s sublimation; he truly feels for them, His movies aren’t about struggle, they’re about identity and individuality; he’s one of the few directors whose films feature a lot of nudity but without this nudity ever feeling like objectification. The nudity is just there.

Sono films are always different, not only because of the stories and settings but also because of the approach; one could be very small and another would feel as epic as Lawrence of Arabia, whilst also remaining down to earth. His ideas are simple, perfectly fitting the famous Roger Ebert quote: “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it. “Sono’s movies are about love, innocence, sexism, and death; but the way he depicts all those topics are fascinating every single time. Each film is something completely new and he never fails to surprise.

The themes and plots of his movies vary from a musical about warring gangs, to a dystopia that can only be described as a sci-fi Jeanne Dielman, but the themes of his works are always simple and easy to understand, no matter how bizarre and surreal the action in his movies can get. I would love to list all examples of insanity in his work but not only is it all too difficult to put into words, it’s also simply pointless. You just have to witness it all with your very own eyes to understand why I, and many others, praise him so much. If I had to name some of the most memorable moments that come to mind it would be: the graphic amputation of a penis with a fountain of blood pulsing out; the dismembering of bodies in multiple works; and a gory action sequence that transitions into an anime-like sword fight with rainbow colours, instead of blood.

In the early days, it seemed like Sono was a typical indie filmmaker, but there’s still something so unique about his earlier films; they’re crazy and rough but in a very special way. The films are low budget and shot on 16mm, but the rawness of these works are unmatched; even with the limitations he had, you can feel that the monster who will make masterpiece after masterpiece was inevitably and surely coming. The only comparison I can find to Sono is not even a filmmaker but a band, Xiu Xiu. Even though Xiu Xiu is an experimental band, they always had pop sounding production and beats. However, with time, it has become almost impossible to categorise them, especially when Girl With Basket of Fruit was released. They’ve become their own self-defined category, much like Sono. Sono’s works are one of a lifetime experience.

Sono has a boundless love and admiration for films and everyone who’s involved in making them, but there’s one thing Sono admires more than cinema: people. His work may seem nihilistic at times, but he always sees a bright shining light for both his characters and human beings in general. Take The Whispering Star, which tells a story of an android-delivery woman that starts developing human emotions and habits; or Tag with which Sono essentially yells at us to stop wasting our lives and do something crazy and memorable, something to look back on fondly at the end of your life. The Land of Hope is a touching piece on the danger of nuclear power plants, and depicts a theme of what home means to all of us;a place that no one wants to leave and where the blood of many generations runs in its walls.

His love for people comes with a sardonic attitude to people’s habits and flaws (mostly male insecurities and toxicity). The inciting incident of Tokyo Tribe is that a leader of one gang saw the genitals of a different gang leader in a sauna and hated him because they were bigger than his own. You see what I mean when I say he loves to make fun of male flaws and insecurities?

Did I mention that Sono is also an author and poet? Yes, he is. He has written a couple of books, one of them based on his own movie, Suicide Club, which is about the mass suicides of high school girls. He also has a whole documentary about himself entitled The Sion Sono, where he just talks about Lars von Trier and art in general. In this documentary Sono says something about himself that I think describes him the best: “I’m hard to categorize but it’s frustrating in general. Sion Sono is a category. I’m an outsider in the movie world. I’m out there. I am Sion Sono.”

Sono may be underappreciated in the industry, but to some extent, it’s an indication of greatness. He is someone who always stays in the shadow of other filmmakers. His smaller movies feel epic and grand, meaning his bigger projects can leave viewers utterly speechless. Insane, humane, and one of a kind, Sion Sono truly belongs in a category of his own.