Aronne Ibarra’s review published on Letterboxd:
Finally got my air...and then saw it again.
Love and God, God and love. What’s the difference?
The very first time I saw Sion Sono’s Love Exposure, I had so much fun and I was touched and moved all the same. It truly is beyond style and ridiculousness. Those four hours blew by so fast, but as speedy it may have come and gone, this film will stay with me forever.
I read the film’s premise and thought, “What a strange subject matter to make a four-hour film around”. After a jolly 237 minutes, I realized that I may have just seen the greatest story of love and other things to be ever put to film. The four-hour runtime? Completely justified. And then some.
Love Exposure, which centers around five characters told in several chapters, is an epic. It has no wide-scale landscapes nor massive set pieces, no giant armies and huge battles, but it is an epic. It is an epic in the sense that this film is all about the incomprehensibly vast concept of the L-O-V-E. And this might just be the greatest film about it.
Love Exposure likens love to God, but not religion. I believe that if you interchange the words love and God for every time they were used in the film, it would still make perfect sense.
Love is a holy and sacred feeling. The problem is we all have different ways of expression. Let us take the character of Yu, the so-called “King of Perverts” and the son of a Christian priest. All his life, he has been searching for a girl to be his ‘Maria figure’-- someone who is not only beautiful but is also someone who can accept him at his best and at his worst. Yu undertakes an amusing training to become a master at Tosatsu--the art of peek-a-panty photography-- against his will in the first place. He is taught to become ‘erect with all his heart’.
If we refer to the much-highlighted Corinthians 13, anything done without love is but a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.
We are nothing without love. Yu has never had a hard-on before, despite taking pride and joy in his sexual sins. And when he finally does, it is only through real love that it is possible. He has found his Maria in this girl named Yoko. But his Maria doesn’t feel the same way just yet.
Yoko hates men and given her past, she has every right to be angry. She was a hard fist and all it took to soften her up was a feeling unknown to her. Like Yu searching for a ‘Maria’, Yoko searches for a ‘Jesus’, the only guy cooler than feminist rock god Kurt Cobain according to her. But her Jesus wasn’t the one to expect. Now Jesus and Mary obviously aren’t romantic couples in the Bible, but it is their qualities that Yu and Yoko long for.
Yu as a ‘Jesus figure’ in Love Exposure only came to me during the second time I saw it. From the start, good Christian boy Yu is forced to commit sins for his priest father, who is slowly descending into madness and over-religiosity. In order to save him from becoming anyone else than the father he once knew, he gets busy collecting sins. In the middle, he carries a double identity as both himself and Miss Scorpion. Jesus as a man is Yu as true himself and Jesus as a God is Yu as Miss Scorpion. And in the end, Yu once again enters the porn industry against his will just to see Yoko. Love drives us to do things we normally wouldn’t, and its power is shown fully in the film. Yoko doesn’t see this yet because she is imprisoned in her fantasy with Miss Scorpion. The performance aspect of early love comes into play here.
That moment when Yoko and Yu dressed as Miss Scorpion are beating up the bad guys--that very moment of emotional connection that sprouted from a kiss, is burned into our minds. We love that moment so when nothing can go wrong and we do our best to preserve it and to live in it. But that simply is impossible as nothing has everlasting youth. Love works in the same way, like a full-bloomed flower that turns into a withered one. And we must come to terms with the truth. Yu wanted to confess Scorpion’s true identity to Yoko, and when he did one night at the park, he fails only because Yoko isn’t ready to accept the fact that the man behind her fantasies is a man who is perverse and sinful. Ever been in or seen a moment when the food is so delicious and then you spit it out once you find out how gross the ingredients are? Yeah, that’s my best analogy.
I stated that God and the Church are different things, but what does that have to do with love? A lot, actually.
The Church is an organization. It likes to keep people in boxes, all arranged and tidy. They see themselves as responsible shepherds who would do anything to keep the 100 sheep together at all times because they’re too busy to go look for one sheep when it goes missing. Being one of those sheep feels restricting of personal expression and freedom. Everyone has their own way of expression and no one else, not even the Church, can tell them what is proper and decent. We know that Yu’s hard-on is his personal expression of love to another woman, yet to many others, this is perverse and obscene. There is more than one way to love, I guess. Too bad we let our modesty get in the way of our honesty.
There are two religious organizations in Love Exposure: the Christian Church and the Zero Church. As a devout Catholic, I’m quite convinced there aren’t many differences between the two. Both are groups that work with a system-- a system that tells different people with different lives and different beliefs what is wrong and right, what is acceptable and what is filthy, and what to do and what not to. Either way, they strive for conformity. Notice how all the members of the Zero Church wear similar white clothing. This conformity, however, strips away humanity and the powerful capability to love with all the heart. Perhaps the best way to praise God is not inside a stone building, like how love is best without boundaries.
The character of Aya Koike, to me, is the personification of someone who knows no love. She has been completely eaten up by the system of society and either Churches. And she goes all out to break Yu and his family into a million pieces. By the end, everyone except Yu is wearing all-white clothing in an immaculate white room. His family has been completely put into place with no power to express burning love. Earlier in the film, Yu’s father tells him anything white is good, but in that moment we are forced to rethink what the concept of goodness is given the context. Is it better to be true to yourself yet be genuinely sinful, or be someone that you are not but is good? Is this what religion wants us to be-- a humanoid devoid of love?
A little later, Koike commits suicide while telling she and Yu are now the same in their disillusion. Man is disillusioned without love.
And when Yu is taken away from Yoko and everything that can go wrong goes wrong, he has lost his faith in love and in God, placing him in the same situation Koike has been in for a long time now.
Soon, Yu is confined in a mental facility and he still gets in his Miss Scorpion get-up, stuck in a beautiful yet brief time of a past love. And when it seems like all hope is lost for him, Yoko, now seeing her mistakes and ready to accept the fullness of his Jesus figure, sets Yu free from his disillusion and reignites his belief in love. For Yu, his fallen cross of love stands tall again thanks to his Maria figure, as literally portrayed in the film. And when the love he knows reruns in his blood, we get the greatest boner ever in cinema. The film ends as Yu and Yoko hold hands ready to start anew with lessons of life and love learned.
There’s still many things I have not touched on this review, but it is getting really long. And if you have made all the way down here, thank you for reading! I really love Love Exposure and since I saw it for the first time just days ago, it’s rapidly become one of my favorite movies ever. It is truly like nothing I’ve ever seen before and it’s an experience I’m very happy to relive time and again. There are many more things to pick up with every passing viewing and I will not hesitate to watch it all over again because it’s so damn good. Keep watching movies and stay cool guys!