Sion Sono is one director that is definitely controversial. His films range from the bizarre to the weird, to something more commercial and even going to the darkness that makes one doubt humanity. Sono’s films are never for everyone, and it could be said that some of his movies can get a little too cryptic for their own good. Regardless, Sono is one of Japan’s most prolific directors and it cannot be argued that the man does make a genuine effort to create something original in his films.
The story centers around Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima), a young man who had been left to the care of his father, Tetsu (Atsuro Watanabe) after his mother passed when he was but a child. Tetsu had joined the priesthood after his mother’s death, and he proves to be a natural. Tetsu is so good at being a priest that a woman named Kaori (Makiko Watanabe) takes a liking to him and the two begin to forge an affair hidden from the church. This forbidden relationship one day takes its toll that Tetsu begins to take it out on Yu, and he takes his religious beliefs to the extreme. This leaves Yu with no other choice but to have a fascination with ‘sins’. With this in mind, Yu takes on a fetish of panty-photography just so he can have real sins to confess. But one day, while Yu is disguised as “Miss Scorpion” (dressed in Meiko Kaji’s famous garb in the Scorpion films) he chances upon a young woman named Yuko (Hikari Mitsushima) and Yu develops an extreme liking to her. To make things more complicated, Yuko is only interested with Yu when he is “Miss Scorpion”. But then there is another strange young woman called Aya Koike (Sakura Ando), a overly religious fanatic that somehow becomes obsessed in ruining Yu’s life…
“Love Exposure” is a film that is pretty hard to describe. It is one very bizarre epic that has a runtime of just under 4 hours. It is about bizarre relationships that can be called ‘bizarre for the sake of being bizarre’ or something ‘weird just to be weird’. Sono does manage to keep the film interesting despite its ridiculous runtime, as he creates a successful interweaving of the lives of its characters. The plot is driven by its characters, and Yu’s story is not Yuko’s story, while Aya also has her own story. Sono does manage to keep the direction’s footing, as the film is easy to follow and it was able to maintain its pace. It never felt boring at all, and the more one got to know the characters, the more immersed one would be. I know sometimes, Sono goes a little too ‘weird’ and a little too reliant on theatrics, but here in “Love Exposure”, that was never the case. The film could've easily been told in anime since the basic nature of its ideas can be regarded as something that could've come from Manga. However, it was this factor that made the film charming in a somewhat unrealistic sort of way.
Sono does a lot of visual manipulation from some Catholic Iconography to homage to Japan’s past exploitation films. Never falling behind with grisly graphic imagery, Sono’s film never felt exploitive, though the delivery may go from ridiculous to silly to funny to just disturbing, the graphic nature of this film was never cheap as every element used was made to further the mechanics of the plot. The film is strangely eye-catching, I mean I was enthralled with the way Sono manipulated the camera to his advantage. Even when Yu was doing his panty-fetish, and when the film exposed the depraved nature of the scenes, it never felt dirty and the slick use of angles and colors make the scenes stand out. Despite the ridiculous nature of some of its elements, Sono’s direction was strong enough to communicate what was going on in the minds of its characters. The screenplay concentrates on the build up of the characters as part of its plot development, and this was a wise move on the part of the writing and the direction. Voice-overs and the soundtrack (Japanese punk among other things) just made the film much easier to get into.
The twisted elements of the film allow for a lot of breathing room. The film is never at a lost for ‘food for thought’ and I barely felt its long runtime. As with most of his films, the film has quite a good number of elements to keep the film moving. Themes of loss, love, death and the emotional turmoil that comes from rape, cults, incest and fetish behavior bears an equal amount of focus in its script. Sono also injects several cultural allegories and religious ponderings to make the film feel cerebral, and so I had no problems keeping up with it. The film also throws in several metaphors and symbolisms that gives it an artsy feel. But it does not merely ‘shock’ for ‘shock’s’ sake, but rather it has enough intricacies to make one’s brain work and read more into the scenes than just allowing oneself to be taken in by its bold nature. Sono also takes jabs at the sexist nature of Japanese society, and just how religion can prove to be dangerous both to society and the citizenry as well as something that could help people. I suppose Sono is trying to say that some people need to belong, and to believe while others can easily be blinded by it due to their emotional issues. There is also an intriguing romantic comedy around this film, however twisted it does appear to be (oh, some cell phones in Asia can have 2 numbers assigned to them with 2 sim cards so that is not a plot hole).
Sono’s film may sound like a chore to watch when one reads that it has an almost 4 hour runtime, but the director certainly knew what he was wanted to do with his film; it never lost a beat, and it was wrapped up pretty nicely. The superb performances also had a huge hand in keeping the film out of the ordinary that I never lost interest. Hikari Mitsushima does almost steal the show as her performance was truly awe-inspiring (you know Sono has a knack for finding attractive actresses to play in his films) and even Sakura Ando managed to pull off the twisted sick bad guy so well that viewers would definitely laugh and be creeped out by her. I know “Love Exposure” can sound daunting once you hear its ridiculous runtime, but trust me, it won’t feel like almost 4 hours long once you get into it. It is a film that is compelling and intriguing, and fans of his earlier work should really take a look. There is no shortage on the weird and the bizarre in “Love Exposure” and it is an impressive effort on the part of the director that it gets a Timid Recommendation due to its nature. [4- Out of 5 Stars]
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