Love Exposure by its length alone will divide audiences. Within recent times I have actually grown very disapproving of filmmakers who don’t properly edit their films. It seems that every independent film or arthouse title simply must break through the two hour time length. In fact, with its popularity growing, Asian cinema has unfortunately developed a reputation for having films that are overly long and lacking in solid editing power. While Love Exposure is not a movie that I find without flaw in terms of its editing, I have to give credit where it is due! For a four hour long film there is hardly a lagging moment throughout. There are scenes here and there that do not add anything to the plot particularly, yet Sono manages to keep the audience enthralled by examining all of the little crevices of this world that he has created around his characters. Taking place within a heightened state of reality, Sono’s world is full of weirdos, perverts and general lost souls and at no point are these characters not interesting.
Love Exposure certainly seems to have that outsiders look at the interior side of Christianity, but what I appreciate about the film is the actual care and understanding that it employs. Christianity is often beguiled by outsiders as a religion of condemnation and judgment. Although our leading man’s father is unable to believe his son’s lack of “valid” sinning, he is not a man who goes about judging everyone around him. Instead, there are certain elements of Christianity that actually do get to shine through in Love Exposure such as Christ’s love and the importance of understanding. There is a particular sequence where 1 Corinthians: 13 is read out loud and the profound understanding of the words are made clear for the characters.
Yet, Love Exposure is not a Christian film in particular but for fellow Christians who are open to a film featuring fallible and confused characters, it shows a different side to the faith. With characters who are lost in the act of spiritual growth. Sono looks to paint organized religion in as much of a guilty light as the boxed in cult mentality. Thankfully Sono does not carve his ideas in stone and leaves his film very open to interpretation in terms of just what it has to say about religion and the culture that is promoted through it. Sure enough there are organized versions of Christianity that ask for its fellowship to devote an extraordinary amount of their life and livelihood that is not biblical. A little satire is surely good enough for those who pervert the faith. For fans of Sono however, you can see much of what has made the filmmaker the talent that he is. I’ve already mentioned Noriko’s Dinner Table, but parallels between that film and Love Exposure are numerous and we can see the patterns and continual themes that seem to attract Sono’s interest. With Suicide Club and Noriko’s Dinner Table, Sono explored a very similar cult like situation and this time around he delves back into those similar waters but is even more contemplative and engaging in his examination of the topic at hand. This is Sono at his most refined.
Sono loves to play with narrative conventions and he does so in Love Exposure with gleeful abandonment. The film is told in three different chapters, features a split narrative that takes three different voice over narrations and even has a nondescript deadline that the film steadily hurtles towards. From the start, we have these title cards that pop up and inform us that we have 365 days until a miracle is to happen. All of this begins in simply the first half of this four hour feature. Yet, it’s from these intricate takes on narrative structure that the film never seems to slow down and is surprisingly brisk in its editing. Although it is four hours in length, there is very little in this film I would dare want to see cut out. There are things that I’m sure you could actually remove. There is a good chunk of film dedicated wholly to the training of Yu Honda, which could probably be toned down. Then there are the courting sequence, which follow Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) and his attempts to impress Yoko Ozawa (Hikari Mitsushima) despite her being in love with Yu only when he is disguised in drag as Miss Scorpion (yes, as in THE Scorpion from the Female Convict Scorpion series starring Meiko Kaji, who Nishijima is dressed to resemble). This sequence in particular seems as if it would be ripe for the chopping block due to the way the film takes on the feel of a romantic comedy of sorts. However, these are the moments that add texture to the characters and ultimately reveals their interior for the audience to see. While these character are fleshed out, with the twists and turns in tone, the movement of the film seems to move with a lightning pace.
With the addition of superflous genre cinema references and ideals, Sono helps to take this very simple story and multiply the gravity of such a situation tenfold. This simple story of love and the ties that bind are wrapped up inside of an enigma of spirituality, religious furvor, perversity and martial arts. The martial arts come into play as Yu is trained to be an upskirt photographer and the way in which the film shows us the dedication it takes for him to become this highly decorated pornographer is by giving the artform a martial arts style training sequence. Instead of simply waiting for the right moment and snapping a picture, Yu does cartwheels, flips and acrobatic somersaults in order to snap the right photograph. These sequences are entertaining due mostly to the intense choreography and imagination involved in developing such an idea. This sort of gimmick could very well carry a weaker comedy, as we have seen with select Stephen Chow films. Within the realm of Love Exposure, this is just one idea out of many that Sono chooses to explore simply for the fun of the idea.
Sion Sono also runs the gauntlet in terms of visual ideas and aesthetic over this four hour long journey. He takes us through so many different textures and design ideas that one feels drunk after the experience. The cast wear an assortment of colorful garbs throughout the film, to the point where it becomes obvious that this film takes place within some form of hyper reality that just barely resembles our home earth. Sono’s set design takes us from very modest Japanese homes up to the very top of corporate skylines that are so pristine that they lack any form of definition and simply beam white. Possibly reflecting the spiritual enlightenment that those who inhabit it hope to achieve, or maybe the walls are simply white because a samurai showdown is soon to take place and will reflect the gallons of blood in a much cooler way. Then again, maybe the white walls do represent that purity and its the blood that represents reality that not one of us will ever achieve true spiritual purity due to our own sinful nature? Who is to say, but Sono certainly leaves his film open to interpretation.