Ben Reiss’s review published on Letterboxd:
Where would cinema be without Catholicism? Scorsese and Bresson would probably have become accountants, Fellini would be a neorealist, Pasolini would have nothing to rebel against, and Love Exposure would not exist.
Love Exposure begins like any good catholic movie: with a boy fixating on his mother. Within seconds mom dies, dad becomes a priest, and the kid (named Yu) grows up a responsible and happy catholic. After some events the father becomes a fire and brimstone-type priest who insists that his son go to confession daily. When Yu has nothing to confess (he is, of course, a great catholic) the father is disappointed and feels he is hiding something. Eventually Yu starts sinning just to have something to confess to his father: he joins a street gang, gets involved with upskirt photography (“what do Catholics like more than obscenity?”) and the plot is rolling.
Love Exposure is one of those capital-M Movies with capital-S Scenes and capital-A acting. It is a four hour long swing for the fences that will hopefully be remembered as one of the great films of the early 21st century. It asks us what it means to love and what it means to believe. Is asks how we grow and proudly, confidently states that we cannot do any of these things alone.
One of the most brilliant and impactful aspects of Love Exposure to me was the way that the film used music. The film has no original music, instead using established classical pieces (occasionally broken up by songs from the band Yura Yura Teikoku ) in key moments. Early on, there is about a half an hour stretch where Ravel’s Bolero runs on repeat as Yu grows as a young man through his sins. It is a piece that starts with only a snare drum and an oboe repeating the same melody, then slowly grows into a full orchestra, each repetition adding another instrument or two. This is perfect for a sequence in which a young man slowly blossoms, and when the climax of the song hits, we get the climax of the first act.
There are also a series of parallel scenes where Beethoven’s 7th Symphony (movement 2) plays as one person makes an emotional plea to the person they love. The movement starts softly, almost inaudibly, then it slowly grows as, again, more instruments are added every few measures. Each of these parallel scenes involve a love that is imperceptible at first, then slowly makes itself known, then becomes loud, forceful, and unavoidable in a climactic scene. The repetition of the movement throughout the film creates a compounding effect. The first time such a scene occurs it seems like a joke, the final time it brought me to tears.
So how does Catholicism fit in? John Waters once said that it is critical for young people to have something to rebel against in order to grow properly. Sion Sono seems to agree. Every character here finds love and expresses love through rebellion. Each finds their lover via transgression, and each expresses that love by working to pull their lover away from some type of institutional control. I have a close friend who once defined love as the willingness to change the world for someone. Sion Sono goes a step further: love is when you will defy an institution, spit in the face of god, and commit sin for someone. Maybe this is why so many Catholics make films too. If art is an act of love, then maybe art is always an act of rebellion as well. Hard to rebel when you have nothing to rebel against.