Turner Stewart ♃’s review published on Letterboxd:
Love Exposure has the greatest story I have ever seen depicted on film. The movie's scope is incredible: a four hour love story that weaves religious dogma, ultra-violence, perversion, and a million other topics into a flawless tapestry. This is a film that needs to be experienced in one devoted play-though, free of distractions, so that you can get invested in the complex characters and their tragically doomed relationships. Like my Daisies review, I will first discuss why you need to watch the film in the first paragraph, then I will get into dissecting the reasons why this movie is amazing.
Four hours is a lot of time to invest in a movie, as it falls into that awkward space where it can't be watched episodically (like one usually does with Satantango or Shoah), and this movie is paced in a way that requires the viewer to watch it all in one sitting. Although this will immediately turn away a lot of viewers, this movie has the biggest pay-off of any movie I've seen. This film is constructed in a way that tells a complex and tragic story in a straight-forward manner, while still being challenging enough that it never panders to the audience. You will either be with this movie or against it, and if you stay with it you will be rewarded with the greatest and most fulfilling ending I have ever seen. I promise that you will be satisfied by the ending of this film, and not only that, you will be involved in every second of the story up until that point.
This is one of the few movies I've seen where it got to the ending and I wished it would keep going forever. I became so deeply invested with the characters and their relationships that I wanted to just keep a window open to their world. The runtime allows for the characters to develop at a gradual pace, which means that the romantic relationship is given room to grow gradually, and by the end their unrequited love feels real; you actually want their relationship to succeed and for them to find happiness together.
I think this works because Sono creates a sort of hyper-reality. Everything is melodramatic and overblown, but the relationship between our main characters, Yu and Yoko, is given both the insane melodramatic moments and the subtly emotional ones. This is best demonstrated by the scene on the beach where Yu is attempting to bring Yoko back from the cult brainwashing. The scene blends subtle acting gestures on the actors faces with overblown melodrama in how Yoko is tied up and screaming Bible verses. Sono wonderfully mixes the extreme and the mild facets of human emotion, and scenes like this demonstrate how good the film is at blending emotional levels and guiding their impact on the viewer.
The film also isn't afraid to get incredibly violent and fucked up when it wants to. There is incestual rape, a penis being cut off, and all other sorts of perverted digressions that form this film's hyper-reality. These elements when written feel like they would be out of place in a film focused on unrequited love and religious dogma, but the ultra-violence and perverted sexuality perfectly complements the extreme levels of melodrama, and helps to emphasize the overblown emotions and behaviours shared by the characters of the movie and real teenagers; the main characters form a teenage archetype representative of the heavy emotions adolescents feel in the real world.
This film also has a lot of style to complement the melodramatic narrative. The soundtrack consists dominantly of two pieces of music: a pop song and a more classical instrumental piece. These two moods expressed in these songs (the glee of the pop and the sadness of the instrumental piece) are stretched to the limits of each emotion, but somehow Sono is able to make it work every time, and hearing one of the songs start to play immediately lets the viewer know what to feel. This is more subtle than I make it sound, but it's a very clever and subtle way of letting the style guide the viewer's emotions. The movie is also a mix of quick-cutting and slow building long-shots. Interestingly, the major action scene of the film is shot in a series of long-shots, which Sono cuts between as a means of building tension, while still allowing a perfect temporal build-up. The shot composition is always interesting, and some of the shots are impressive in their dexterity and how they get directly into the meat of a scene.
*I will now spoil the ending.
The ending of the film carries the biggest pay-off I have ever seen. I've seen so many films where the main character is shit-on and fucked over the entire film, and it ends with him doing nothing about it. I always hoped that they would just go balls-to-the-wall, who-gives-a-fuck crazy and start tearing shit up. This is the movie where I finally got to see that happen. After being aggressively tortured by the evil cult, Yu finally says that he's had enough of this shit, puts on his "superhero"-like costume, and pulls out a katana and starts killing everybody as he fights his way to his true love. It was so brilliant and fantastic; I had never experienced the same awestruck happiness towards a movie before. This is how you end a fucking story. Then it doesn't end, the characters reach their lowest point and Yu doesn't win after pulling out everything he had. The villain wins and the screen cuts to black. But then, it comes back, and the role switches with Yoko having to save Yu from a mental institution, and the movie gives equal opportunity for both lovers to rescue each other. It is such a beautiful and perfect closing to the movie, that I couldn't help but carry a smile on my face for the rest of the day. The final image of the film is the two lovers finally being reunited after three hours of torture and pain, and Sono freezes on the image of their hands meeting in perfect affinity.
That is how you end a movie.