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This film was recommended to me when I mentioned going to a film
festival in London, so I read a little about it and it gathered that it
was a four hour plus Japanese movie with themes surrounding Catholic
guilt, love, up-skirt fetishism, and transvestism. How could I fail to
be entertained? Well I wasn't.
A false dichotomy containing however a large helping of truth is that with cinema, when you go down either the art-house or mainstream routes, you are opting for either the morbid or the stupid (occasionally both). If that's so, then Love Exposure is an example of the troisieme voie that modern exuberant Japanese cinema can be. This film is literally bursting with life and fully sustains the four hour running time. I felt like asking the winds why all cinema wasn't like this when I came out.
Despite numerous sashays forward and back in time and a pretty complex plot, what we've got here is basically a love story between star-cross'd lovers, a young man Yu, and a young woman Yoko. The comedy aspect comes with the obstacles that Yu is continuously having to overcome to achieve love with Yoko, a girl who hates all men, except for Kurt Cobain (incidentally Cobain crossdressed). Spunky Yu is going to be dragged through bushes, over hot coals, through friendships, in and out of a cult and drug before he even gets close to Yoko.
The soundtrack is pretty crazy, and disarmingly obvious, main uses are made of Ravel's Bolero and the Allegretto from Beethoven's Symphony #7 (if you don't recognise the name you probably will recognise the sound). There's also some J-rock chucked in for added good measure, and that was not bad to be fair (I don't generally care for modern vocal music - chock full of loose allusions). The vast majority of films wouldn't get away with the classical choices made here, however the film has the level of pathos and interest to match the music.
There's quite a lot of points scored along the way about different modes of living. Tosatsu is shown as being as revelatory as the Christian experience. Tosatsu by the way, if you can believe it, is the Japanese martial art of taking up-skirt photos of unwary young women. The movie dwells a lot on the fetishism involved with Christianity as much as it does up-skirt fetishism. We quite often see ornate gold and mother of pearl rosaries being held by female characters, and the ritual of confession becomes incredibly fetishised, literally causing Yu to commit far more sin than he would otherwise have done.
It occurs to you occasionally that the film is low budget, as some of the cinematography is reminiscent more of a documentary than a high production values movie. But the movie is a pure unbroken copper strand, conducting electricity throughout. The great device of Sono during the first half of the movie is to have a countdown to a "miracle" that is going to occur so you're always in anticipation.
I've simplified the movie a bit, there are several important characters that I haven't mention whose stories play out alongside Yu's, and the level of character development is very high. This is the movie experience of the year. You'll see the hospital run at the end, and it will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Congratulations to Shion Sono, who has displayed a sensitivity to marginalised folks, and a joie de vivre that hardly anyone else is even trying to do.
Imagine the perfect movie, and there will never be a better one after
that. I saw "Love Exposure" today at the Nippon Connection Film
Festival in Frankfurt. It's a masterpiece. The best 4 hours of cinema I
have ever seen. It's so heartbreaking, my knees are still shaking and I
have to say, I cried like a Baby at the End. Forget everything you've
ever seen before and go on a ride you will never forget. Sion Sono is a
goddamn genius. And the best about it, it's not a second to long. On
the contrary, the movie cut is very fast. I hope Rapid Eye Movies will
release a uncut DVD and Blu-ray version in Germany. It's very rare you
feel those magic moments in cinema these days.
Summing up Sono's Love Exposure is a task I still do not think I am ready for even after two days of soaking it in after my viewing at NYAFF. Some of the many ideas the film dealt with in the 4 hour runtime included commentary on religion, cultism, perversion, growing up and coming of age, love, and life. The film tackles many of these heavy hitting themes and ideas with a sense of humor found very little in much of the mainstream fluff produced today. The balance of subtle often crude humor and darker, heavier, more dramatic aspects of the story really works well. Sono creates a product that can appeal to a wider base of people. There is something in this film for everyone from the people who enjoy the latest Will Ferrel production to the admirers of Bergman. With a rowdy packed house at the NY premiere at the festival the first two and a half hours are a riot and breeze by. There are points in the latter portion which start to drag a bit but never could I say I was bored with the film. The movie was well made with good cinematography, decent acting, and a great script with fully fleshed out characters. The director is able to create an effective commentary on religion, loneliness, Japanese society all the while mixing in a lot of body humor, up-skirt shots, and a few lesbian kissing scenes for good measure. Overall highly recommended, ignore the 4 hour runtime because it is the fastest 4 hour movie you will see. Ultimately a funny, sad, uplifting, and depressing movie all at the same time.
Even after the light on I cannot utter a single word in the theatre. I clutched my heart and it beat incredibly fast. There is no point one should criticize an artwork like Love Exposure, with all elements a good film should consist of. Perfect plot, stunning music, touching ending. I cannot help crying on the last scene. This is just a pure love movie. So true. A romance in a crazy and nonsense world. Sion Sono is simply a genius. He shows us how a movie can take audiences to an amazing journey. I am not going to write a formal review on the movie. There is no way I can sum up the movie with words but never can I say one day I would forget the movie by a bit. This is one of the best movies I've ever watched, if not the best. Go watch it! You will be moved, definitely.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With Love Exposure you need to know up front that it's four hours. If
you're accepting of that fact and willing to hunker down with it in
theory, you're already most of the way there, because this is one of
those rare epics where it definitely does not feel like a four hour
slog. Instead, Sion Sono takes us through the story of Yu Honda and his
love of his young teenage life, Yoko, as if it's in homage to City of
God: things move forward fast by way of the characters' narration
taking us along, telling us the back-stories and then how they meet in
an outrageous, fateful moment.
It's too hard to simply condense all of what Love Exposure is "about". This should not be a mark against Sion Sono, on the contrary it's a mark of a film so rich in a creative story, of characters wholly developed in their various tragic and twisted and sometimes very funny ways that it almost does a disservice to have to break everything down into simple summaries. It's a film that takes many chances as outrageous satire and sordid melodrama with its ideas and details and succeeds on nearly all of them.
It all starts with the protagonist, Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) telling us in narration how he was raised: his mother died when she was very young, instilling in him and Honda's father a sense of religious purpose (the Mother Mary comes into play very early at this point, and Sono comes back to it later as a device of infatuation for Yu). After she dies, Yu's father Tetsu (Atsuro Watabe) becomes a priest, but a snafu comes with Saori (Makiko Watanabe), a very insistent and hysterical woman who practically forces Tetsu to start a relationship with her. He does, briefly, but then she leaves him for someone else, which turns Tetsu into something else: a cranky priest.
He drags now teenage Yu to confession to confess things that are very petty since he's an average kid with little in the way of troubles. But the "Father" is insistent, and so Yu takes up more "sins" such as petty theft with a gang, and this soon leads into one of the real highlights of the film, which is Yu's training and mastering of the art of taking lighting-quick pictures up teenage girl's skirts for their panties, all for the ironic "approval" of having sinned enough for the confession, with hilariously disastrous results He loses a bet with his friends and has to dress up in drag. On this exact day he has a run in with a gang of thugs looking to beat up a girl, Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) even though, as she insists, she can take care of herself.
It's after this crazy kung-fu battle that the two lock eyes: Yu on Yoko, Yoko on what appears to be a mysterious female martial arts master, who in a moment of odd inspiration is dubbed "Miss Scorpion". It's from here, at the one hour mark, we move from Yu to Yoko's back-story, even *more* harrowing and melodramatic than Yu's, THEN this leads into another back-story for the pivotal character Koike (Sakura Ando) who has ascended by her rather evil tendencies (she castrated her father as a young girl for abuse, but this isn't even what makes her evil as we find out) in a church called ZERO, which is a cultish church looking to drag families in and brainwash them with their caste system of dehumanization.
What happens when Koike starts to infiltrate Yu and his family circle, and in particular with her known connection between Yu and Yoko, shouldn't be spoiled. If it sounds like a lot of story then it is, but never, not once, did it get boring. Oh sure, it is the story of teenagers in love, and so we get a lot of what makes teens teens: sexual frustration, angsty-tendencies (Yoko has a "I HATE MEN" policy leading to her thinking she may be a lesbian), and being "perverted" in the eyes of the church. But it's directed by Sono with plenty of energy and humor - some of this is so funny in some gross and ridiculous ways, not least of which involving a running gag with Yu's continual and hard-to-deflate arousal - moving along from point to point breathlessly.
While the humor of the church could remind one of Bunuel's cunning jabs at Catholicism, there's too much to pinpoint simply because it's got something for any real movie fan: there's over-the-top Yakuza-style violence (a climactic bloodbath is reminiscent of a Miike splatter-fest), there's harsh melodrama, there's satire stretching across the spectrum from pornography to cult-worshipers to kung-fu. And if you want some actual hardcore drama out of theater there's a show-stopping scene on a beach where Yoko breathlessly and tearfully delivers the entire excerpt from Corinthians 13 to a baffled Yu. The music selections are also phenomenal, ranging from catchy Japanese pop-rock to Beethoven's 7th symphony 2nd movement, surely one of the most dramatic pieces of music for use in a movie let alone this.
Love Exposure is crazy, inspired film-making, shot on digital video with care and acted with so much gusto to match with the breakneck speed of the mis-en-scene. You'll check your watch from time to time, but only to wonder how fast its all gone by. If you're into intelligent Japanese cinema done on a HUGE canvas, this is the place to go - that is, if and when it gets a US distributor.
Love Exposure is Sion Sono's first truly great film. As much as I was
truly creeped out and disturbed by his previous modern horror classic
"Suicide Circle" I was equally bored and repulsed by his "Strange
Circus", so much so I had written Sonno off as a hack who got lucky.
Love Exposure continues Sono's themes of alienated youth on the fringes
of cults and the extremes of pop culture, but here he gives himself the
freedom to be funny, sweet, frail, absurd, and exciting.
The story begins with a catholic boy named Yu whose mother dies, but not before asking to him to swear that he will find a woman like the Virgin Mary to make his wife. His father out of grief dedicates himself to the priesthood, and all is well until a romantic "detour" in his life, leaves him a sin obsessed and emotionally vacant shell whose Jeremiah's and interrogations of his son become his only solace.
He insists Yu make daily confessions, and though Yu wants to oblige, he cant think of any wrongs he might possibly have committed, that is until he begins committing some sins of his own. His small sins are quickly not enough for his father who thinks he's just making it up and not really concerned with sin and thus his immortal soul.
It is only when he meets a group of street kids, and begins learning the secret art of up skirt panty photography (peek-a-panty), that his father reacts and beats him, finally not acting like an impartial priest but an enraged father.
This backfires a bit for Yu when his father moves out of the house completely, to live in the church and be "closer to God". This is all played out in black comedy fashion, the peek-a-panty training sequence which uses elements of kung-fu and acrobatics to capture the naughty pics, being some of the most especially funny.
Yu's incorruptibility while he performs these increasingly corrupt acts is another thing that keeps this movie from wallowing in its transgressions. Yu only wants his father to love him and really does believe his sins will please him and bring them closer together. In fact none of the characters even the film's villain, the young leader and "criminal mastermind" of the Zero Church (a Scientology/Aum inspired cult; the Aum carried out the deadly Serin gas attacks in a Tokyo subway in 1995, an event which seems central to much of Sono's work) named Koike, who strokes a small green parrot like a James Bond villain, is motivated throughout the havoc she wreaks, not by a desire for world domination, by her love for Yu.
Yu out one day in drag after losing a bet, encounters a group of inexplicable street toughs harassing a girl, who comes to resemble "his Maria" the girl he has been searching for all this time (and who he insists he will know because she will be the first to give him an erection). What ensues is a kung fu fight in town square, that ends with a sweet if confusing kiss, exchanged by the star crossed lovers.
Confusing because Yoko (his Maria), believes her first kiss was with a woman (Ms. Scorpion) and that she may now be a lesbian, which coincides nicely with her understandable "hatred of men" stemming from her abusive father. To make a four hour story short, Yu and Yoko become step brother and sister, and Yu is put in a Tootsie/Spiderman like position of having created an alter-ego the love of his life is more interested in than "the real him".
Then things heat up, dramatically and under the collar, when Koike whose been observing impassively for the first hour or so, enters the picture claiming to be Ms. Scorpion (Yu's alter ego, the spitting image of Blank Blank in Lady Prisoner), and seducing Yoko (in many a lesbian school girl make-out session) in order to get closer to Yu.
I'll stop there with plot, because there are still two and half more hours I would have to describe.
Goodness and perversion are the two twin themes throughout the film, just as I've said each character is motivated in some ways by love, but they all different definitions of what love is. These definitions are more often than not imposed by some social barrier or psychological scar from childhood.
Some may be bothered by the "weirdness", "perversity", or sacrilege in the film, but everything is in its right place, in its right measure, and nothing is exploitative. The immersion in perversion and the obscene recalls another great modern spiritual film Abel Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant" where bodies are used and abused with drugs and degraded sex, in order to make the contrast between the spiritual and non physical more clear.
Ken Russell's The Devils and Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, both focus on the material, hostile, and outrageous, to show the pure spirit; God struggling in the world, as the spirit/mind struggles with the body. For Sono the material world is one of porn, guilt, self flagellation, but above all love. Though love may lead take on one on many a strange "detour" in life, it ultimately really does conquer all (see Corinthians 13).
For these reasons and too many more to write down, Sonos up-skirt peek-a-panty ninja quest for the Virgin Mary as Holy Grail is one of the best love stories, coming of age tales, and movies of the decade. This movie is a strange brew of the theatrical and the uncommonly sensitive, in a way that truly has to be seen for yourself. I hope when it gets released stateside it comes with its full run time intact, because it's the first four hour movie I've ever seen that I sincerely didn't want to end.
For me, "Love Exposure" is something of a terrific one-off experience. How to begin to describe with any degree of rationality the extraordinary effect of bewildering excitement it has had on a near octogenarian, is a task I find daunting. And yet for a work unlike any other in its helter-skelter delivery of an adolescent's quest for romantic fulfilment ( which I suppose is what it is all about), I feel I should at least take up the challenge. With such an engagingly innocent central character as schoolboy Yu, it seems completely natural to suspend disbelief and go along with everything he experiences, including his hilarious initiation into the skills of a panty photographer, his role as father-confessor at a perverts' convention and his attack with explosives and much blood letting on the HQ of a brainwashing religious cult. Buried beneath it all there could well be many serious messages (you get a big chunk of Corinthians!) or it could be just a pile of tosh. But in the end, who cares, such is the delirious pleasure that just under four hours of outrageous goings-on have delivered. I suppose I just love the theme of innocent youngsters taking on the wicked world. Gosh! I am still reeling, my critical faculties all but shattered!
A freewheeling, four-hour epic saga of teenage crushes, Christianity,
upskirt photos, double identities, shady cults and perversion. Director
Sion Sono gives himself free rein to shift gears at the drop of a hat,
and amazingly it doesn't end up an incoherent mess. In fact, somehow
the more ridiculous it gets, the more you start to take it seriously.
There's an awful lot of thematic ground covered here, but for me it
felt particularly successful as a story of adolescent self-discovery.
Yu and Yoko cycle through various roles that their social structures,
institutions and backgrounds have set up for them before they "find
themselves" in a finale that in itself may be yet another false
construct. The film's Christian angles are a little tougher to get a
hold on, but ultimately I feel Sono's stance is satirical (rightfully
so) regarding the hypocrisy of organized religion while not completely
writing off the possibility of a fulfilling spiritual life. The sexual
content has an unusual complexity to it as well. I am a little
concerned about the casual treatment of Yoko's lesbianism (which I
can't get into without spoiling) but I suppose that's usually going to
be an issue when you have a male writer/director tackling the subject.
Despite the hefty length, the movie is never dull, mixing up styles and tones in a way that keeps you wondering what will happen next. Comedy and action and melodrama bleed together effortlessly (it's something the Japanese tend to do rather well) and no matter how wacky the proceedings become, there's a sincerity and heartfeltness to it. I liked the use of music, especially the "Bolero" in the first chapter, building up to the "miracle" that smashes our heroes together. The performances are all fine... I don't know if I was particularly impressed with any of them, but they seemed to fit.
Overall, I thought it was fantastic, complex and very entertaining. A bit like Jodorowsky, but more enjoyable.
This is a four hour film from Sion Sono, who has directed "Suicide Club" and "Exte", amongst other films. He certainly is a maverick and this film continues to cement his reputation. The film is about the young Yu, played excellently by Takahiro Nishijima, whose father became a Catholic priest after his mom dies. The story more or less tells his life for one year starting with age 17. He falls in with a ragtag group of petty thieves, thus discovering sin. What we then find out is he is a master of the upskirt camera shot. You watch as he does martial arts moves to get the pictures. This garnered the loudest laughs from the sell out crowd at the Japan Society in New York where I saw the premiere. He then meets the rough around the edges but very pretty Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) and also the somewhat creepy Sakura Ando, whose character tries to lure Yu and his family (which soon includes Yoko, whose guardian is dating Yu's priest dad) to a religious cult. Yoko means everything to Yu, so he tries to stop this. This film can be vulgar at times (you see copious amounts of upskirt shots) and it also to a point bashes Catholicism, but its also pretty powerful. The movie is not boring, despite its length. Its best watched in a theater, since the reaction from the audience at the premiere I went to enhanced the enjoyment. The only reason I didn't give it a 10 was because of its sometime vulgarity, but I highly recommend this film. Sion Sono is very impressive and this is a worthy addition to his controversial but always intriguing career.
This movie is perfection. Normally, even when I enjoy a movie, I'm ready for it to be over after about two and a half hours... I'm sure there is some psychological reason for this. Suffice it to say that this was not at all the case with this movie; in the almost four hour running time, there was literally only one five minute stretch where the pace slowed down. The remainder of the film is pure electricity, and touched on every emotion you could want in a movie... there's laughter in spades, there's action aplenty, and I challenge anyone not to tear up at the amazing ending. If you see only one movie about up-skirt panty-shot taking ninjas this year, make it this one.
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