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Sunday has become a crowded day at MMM, so from next week WHYS…? will run on Saturdays (to avoid the various scheduling snafus that have occurred lately)
DIR: Sion Sono
What’s It All About?
Where to begin? Love Exposure is about religion, sin, cults, obsession, love, deception, mistaken identity, martial arts and upskirt photography. It’s also four hours long, and in Japanese.
Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Because it’s a truly rare person to whom you can say ‘Hey, you want to spend the next four hours watching an utterly mental Japanese film about original sin, religion, obsessive love and upskirt photography?’ and receive an answer that doesn’t come in the form of a fist. It is, in short, a tough sell.
Why Should You See It?
Honestly, when did you last finish watching a film and think, ‘well, I’ve never seen anything like that?’ Think back, even on the films you liked, I’d wager that if you see more than a handful of movies each year it’s been quite some time. Love Exposure will do it for you, you may love it, you may find it supremely irritating (I’d understand) but it will be unlike any other cinematic experience you’ve had, and that surely has to be reason enough to recommend it all on its own.
Summing up the story is a fool’s errand, but I really have to give you the bare bones just so you get a taste of the madness. Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is a pretty normal 16 year old, his mother died when he was young and his Father (Atsurô Watabe) became a priest soon after, but things take a strange turn when his father falls for and is then swiftly dumped by a member of his congregation, Yu’s father takes it out on his son, insisting that he confess his sins daily. In order to do so Yu begins committing sins on purpose, culminating in becoming an expert ‘peek a panty’ photographer. All of this leads to Yu meeting Yoko, the girl of his dreams (Hikari Mitsushima), and being targeted by a cult leader (Sakura Ando). And that only takes us up to the title card, which shows up 58 minutes into the film.
The first thing that really strikes you about Love Exposure is the sheer pace of it. It may be four hours long, but writer/director Sion Sono, whose subsequent film Cold Fish recently opened in UK cinemas, and is also excellent, keeps the film moving at a near breathless clip, mixing tones with a stunning assurance, vacillating between broad, even bawdy, comedy and some surprisingly sincere commentary on religion and cults (the Zero Church, which is pursuing Yu, is clearly based on a mixture of Scientology and various Christian cults) while also finding time for backstory for the various characters (the one for cult leader Aya Koike is disturbing, packed with violence and pretty hilarious) and several punchy and bloody action sequences. The film twists and turrns in ways you don’t expect, throwing you for yet another loop each time you think you have got a handle on it. This can be exhausting, but it does mean that the film feels much shorter than it is, because it never stops moving for long enough for you to start thinking about the running time.
Sono’s visuals are often cartoony, particularly when he views the world, and especially Yoko, though Yu’s eyes. The action scenes – which include the times that Yu and his gang are out shooting panty photos which, hilariously, involves a lot of martial arts moves – are stylised and visually striking, as are the scenes in church, in which symbols of religion often seem to bear down on the characters.
There is a grounding influence in the central trio of performances. Through all the madness Nishijima, Mitsushima and Ando all pull out confident and high quality performances. Nishijima has the tough job, anchoring the film with a very odd character (Yu spends the whole film seeking the woman his mother told him to marry; the embodiment of the virgin Mary), and yet he makes him feel sincere and real within the confines of the film (put him, or any of the other characters in something more grounded though and they would crumble). Hikari Mitsushima is ideal casting as a dream girl; she’s impossibly cute, smart and tough, but Mitsushima is more than a beautiful prop, she’s tremendously intense towards the end of the film as Yoko, recruited into the Zero Church, passionately recites 13 Corinthians to Yu and balances the two extremes of her character well. For me though Sakura Ando, in her first film, is the standout, making Koike both seductive and threatening (something her sharp beauty suits well) and playing brilliantly and chillingly a young woman who has learnt to play every angle of every moment in her life.
As overblown and as silly as it can be, Love Exposure is saved from becoming self parodying because even as it reaches its very heightened ending, the emotion of it remains genuine, as do the performances. You believe Yu risking it all to save Yoko, and vice versa because of the conviction with which those moments are played and because the overblown emotion suits the world of the film. For all of its strands, for everything it says, Love Exposure ends up being a film about the transformative power of love, for good or for ill, and it sends you out on the perfect note, the ending is joyous, and well timed, no ten minute longeurs tying up loose ends for this film, just a strong and simple image to leave you on a high.
Love Exposure is a vital and exciting watch; dazzlingly original, at times incredibly audacious, a film truly unlike any other, but it is also accomplished on every level. If you have the time to spare then it is a must see film.
How Can You See It?
The UK DVD from Third Window is exemplary. The film is split over two discs, which also include an hour long making of, and the main feature looks great and has excellent subtitles. I’m hoping it gets a Blu Ray transfer soon. There does not appear to be a US DVD release.
A tour de force from Jennifer Jason Leigh in GEORGIA.