Love Exposure

Love Exposure ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Okay, so this is the spoilery version of Love Exposure--Sion Sono and me, what a ride it's been, all the way from Strange Circus--a movie I wasn't able to get through, and ended up turning off at the time, to this, which feels very much to me like some kind of landmark achievement. I don't know, man.


Hmm. Let me try again--this is, at its core, a very simple romantic comedy-it's basically boy-meets-girl, boy-wants-to-be-with-girl-but-can't because she thinks he's someone (LADY SCORPION~!) that he isn't-and the cult member stalking him wants to be with him instead, so she decides she's going to take over his life, but in the end, boy and girl work it out--

Well, yes and no. I mean, part of the problem with reviewing this film is that the summary's so straightforward, and yet it's so much detail here-we really get immersed in the main characters here, and their lives, especially Yu and Yoko, that by the midway point, the world Sono has constructed, which is just a little bit OFF from reality, feels real. If that makes sense.

For instance, you could ignore the whole Yu/Yoko thing and focus on their parents instead, and talk about the film as starting off with a focus on the clash between different worldviews-Christianity's focus on the next life vs the focus in the here and now. Or you could focus on the fact that all three of the main characters/participants in the romantic triangle deal with some form of (fairly graphic and upsetting) child abuse, and that their attempts to come to terms with it shape most of their decisions throughout the film. Or you could take it as a fairly sincere riff on the idea that everyone's got someone for them out there, and that love will conquer all (although the time and place may surprise you).

There's a lot of threads, is my point, and it feels very much like a film that demands sitting and thinking about after watching it. There's some sex and some nudity and a lot of perversion and some violence, some of it extremely graphic (This is a film where Sakura Ando tears off a man's pixelated penis at one point and blood sprays all over her and the surroundings, after all, so Caveat Emptor). But what there really is a lot of, especially for Yu, as the protagonist here, is a lot of scenes where characters sit down and try to work things out, or talk through their problems, sometimes by changing their identities and sometimes by trying to convince others to change theirs. And what's remarkable is how much it MOVES. This thing is a marvel of pacing, to the extent that the first hour (Yu's story) really feels satisfying in its own right, and then we get Yoko and Koike's stories in the second hour, and the main conflict doesn't even really kick off until the second half of the film (Yu's struggle against the cult) and yet it never feels it's lagging, never feels boring. The editing is all the more impressive when you look at the fact that Sono apparently edited this down from a six hour version at the producer's request, meaning that about 33% (!!!!!) of the story is on the cutting-room floor somewhere. (I assume a lot of what was cut might be the background of the Zero Church, as their background feels a little less developed than the other plot threads-----

but still, everything ties together. This is a film where Yu's father's attempt to keep his son pure has the reverse effect from what was intended, and Yu's embrace of his identity as a pervert is what both leads him to Yoko and creates the difficulty where he presents himself-it's as limiting for him as his earlier embrace of the church was, and so when we get the long scene where the camera holds on Yoko's angry face in close-up while she looms over him, screaming 1 Corinthians angrily in response to his protests of love, it feels EARNED. The remarkable thing is that all the characters are understood and sympathetic. There's compassion here for all sorts of extreme behavior and in the second half of the film, as Yu's hand is forced by Koike to develop a relationship with her cult in order to regain access to his family, it's genuinely harrowing to see Yu try to build something better-this is a film where characters have time to mess up, make mistakes, think about their mistakes and try to fix them, and it's here that maybe the running time is an asset. It would be impossible to fit the arc into a two hour movie--Koike would probably come off as an even more one-dimensional antagonist figure instead, instead of the tragic figure that she ends up being here.

And the final appearance of Yu's father and Yoko's mother is an Incredibly biting comment on love, and the world around us.

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