Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is a young man born into a Christian family in the very Buddhist society of Japan. His mother dies while he is still young, but before she passes on she gives him a statue of the virgin Mary and insists that he some day find his own Maria. After the death of his mother, his father is left in a state of confusion and turns to the priesthood. He dedicates his life to god, but after a few years confusion once again enters his life as a mysterious woman shows up at his church crying. She slowly starts to seduce the priest and the two begin living with one another behind the church’s back. Everything seems to be going well for this new family unit, but when it becomes apparent that their relationship is going to remain hidden, the woman leaves and Yu’s father is once again alone. Bitterness begins to take over his life as his sermon’s take on a dark tone and his interest in the well-being of others is diminished. He starts turning to Yu for him to confess all of his sins on a daily basis, but Yu is a kind teen and doesn’t commit any terrible sins but his father refuses to believe this. In fact, Yu doesn’t even lust after women. He has never even had an erection at this point in his life and he believes the only girl who will ever do that for him is his Maria. Now, as Yu can’t seem to fool his father during their confessions, he decides he will have to commit as many sins as he possibly can. He teams up with some local punks and begins his mission to find the worst sins he can. This leads him to being trained in the ways of upskirt photography! His father, who has shown disinterest in everything up until this point finally shows some anger towards his son – which is better than the emptiness he had been showing. At the same time that this is happening, the priest’s former mistress has moved on and found another man who has a daughter named Yoko Ozawa (Hikari Mitsushima) who is obsessed with Kurt Cobain. Although she quickly loses interest in this new man, her new “daughter” of sorts becomes very attached to her and vice versa. The two leave and head back to Yu’s father and unknown to Yu Honda, the young Jesus loving Kurt Cobain freak may just be his very own Maria!
Sion Sono is a filmmaker that has defied the world of genre cinema since our introduction to his world with Suicide Club
. Starting his career off in gay porn, he is an unconventional director to say the least. In his interviews he sometimes comes off as a little unbalanced. He seems strange at first glance, as if he were some kind of wild man who simply confused a great number of people to get to this prestigeous position as a top flight arthouse director. However, actions speak louder than words and despite his flighty attitude, his work comes across as deeply personal and often touching. His talent has grown tremendously over the years and his success with Suicide Club
has been proven to be more than just a fluke. Love Exposure
, a four hour arthouse action drama comedy, may just be the culmination of all his efforts up until this point. His work has been consistent in his use of various narrative functions and Love Exposure
continues this love affair in the firmest possible way. His love for voiceover narration and split narratives was cemented in the excellent Noriko’s Dinner Table
, but Love Exposure
shows him taking all of his gifts as a filmmaker and amping them up to their highest potential.
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.
Sion Sono has claimed that the film is written from some semblance of reality, as he once knew of someone who was wrapped up in a cult but was lucky enough to have been rescued from it.
Sono has also said that the implementation of upskirt photography comes from another friend of his who was obsessed with taking such pictures. For him it was said to be “like bird watching”, and Sono felt sympathy for him.
I can’t get over Love Exposure
. It has been days, even a week at this point, since I sat down to watch it. This review has been one of the most contemplated I have written because the film truly touched me and it isn’t the easiest movie to put into words. It won’t prove to be for all audiences. What four hour film really could be? However, if you are patient enough you may find a brilliantly crafted piece of arthouse entertainment. Although it isn’t perfect, I feel that the steps it makes in the world of cinema warrants my highest rating. I give it a five and I hope others have the opportunity to search this one out because it is truly worth your time.