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Three emotionally abused people from the fringes of society get locked in a convoluted love triangle. Yuu, a Catholic boy searching for true love ends up taking erotic photographs of women in public until he discovers Yoko, whom he sees as his Virgin Mary. Yoko, an antifamily, misandristic girl finds that her foster mother will be marrying Yuu's father. Koike, an "original sinner", coordinates a plan to convert Yuu's family to her cult. Under her careful direction, their lives come crashing together in one fateful street fight.Written by
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.
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