Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
Attempting to review Sion Sono’s Japanese upskirt-panty-photography martial arts romance epic Love Exposure is a daunting task indeed, and it has taken me two days to work up the courage to attempt it. With its four hour running time, Love Exposure isn’t afraid to take its time in developing character relationships and backstories, and as a result, I have my work cut out for me in trying to summarize it in less than one hundred pages. But I will try, damnit! I will try!
Love Exposure is quite unlike anything I have ever seen before. The film’s title card isn’t even displayed until an hour into it, which makes for a jarring revelation when you realize that the whole hour you just watched was merely the prologue. While this may seem pretty zany by normal movie standards, Sion Sono has very clearly put a lot of thought into how his film is crafted. The extreme length means that he is free to include scenes that would never make the final cut of your average Hollywood picture (ironically, the original cut of Love Exposure was six hours long), and the result is actually pretty gratifying. When the end credits hit, you not only feel exhausted by the experience, but you feel as though you have spent a long time with the characters, getting to know all about them, and there is extreme satisfaction to be had in this. This film takes you on a surprisingly emotional and philosophical journey.
I’m about to try and sum up the plot, but let me tell you: there’s no way I can fit everything that happens into this piddly little paragraph. So much goes on in Love Exposure, and new plot elements are introduced all the time. The film starts off with the death of the mother of a young man named Yu (Takahira Nishajima), a naive kid who romanticizes about finding his true love. Yu’s family is Christian, and following his mother’s death, Yu’s father Tetsu (Atsuro Watabe) decides to become a priest. When Tetsu demands Yu confess his sins, Yu can’t think of any sins he has committed and, facing his angry father who insists that Yu has sinned, decides to start committing real sins just so he will have something to confess. Yu immediately falls in with a gang of hoodlums who specialize in stealthily taking upskirt photos of girls’ panties, and have even developed a kind of martial art based around it. Thrilled to be sinning, Yu quickly becoming the best upskirt photographer in the gang. Unfortunately, his father so thoroughly disapproves of Yu’s behaviour that he disowns Yu. One night, as Yu kneels in the rain outside his father’s church praying for forgiveness, he absent-mindedly snaps a shot of Koike’s (Sakura Ando) panties. Koike’s friends are immediately offended and threaten to report Yu to the police, but Koike has other plans – she wants to convert Yu and his family to her cult-like religion: the Zero Church! Koike then begins stalking Yu as he goes about his daily routine of taking pervy photos. One day, after losing a bet with his fellow gang members, Yu is forced to dress in drag and kiss the first girl he meets. That girl is Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) – a man-hating schoolgirl who, coincidentally, is the quasi-sister/quasi-daughter of Yu’s former stepmother. Yu is instantly smitten. Confused yet? CUE TITLE CARD.
Love Exposure is a mind-bogglingly intricate film, and Sono fills every frame of it with ponderences on subjects such as love, lust, religion, pornography, acceptance, family, friendship, panties, martial arts, erections and more. What’s even more mind-boggling is that Sono explores these themes in a way that is imaginative and surprising, yet never seems forced or exploitative. Yu’s erection basically gets its own subplot, but it’s somehow never gratuitous! It’s a pretty incredible feat, but Sono pulls it off, infusing the film with an energy and enthusiasm that keeps the viewer not only entertained, but genuinely interested. The interconnections between the different characters all feel natural, and the story flows along at a brisk pace, pausing only to illustrate a dramatic moment from time to time. Love Exposure is the cinematic equivalent of a novel, and it spans many, many genres. Call it a romantic sex comedy family drama martial arts action movie.
The cast is terrific, and they all turn in top notch performances, particularly Takahira Nishajima as Yu. Yu’s transformation from an innocent child into an amateur pornographer into a full-blown killing machine would be a huge undertaking for any actor, but Nishajima does a fantastic job. I was also a big fan of Hikari Mitsushima as Yoko, the ass-kicking, man-hating schoolgirl who just wants tobe loved by Yu’s cross-dressing alter ego Miss Scorpion. But really, the entire cast is awesome, and you even get invested in minor characters as the film progresses.
I’m getting tired of saying how great things are about this movie. The special effects are great, the cinematography is great. From a technical standpoint, this movie is great. Love Exposure is great. It’s just so boring to read how great a movie is, isn’t it? Great.
See Love Exposure. Even if it doesn’t sound like your kind of movie, take a risk and watch it. There’s something for everybody, and even if you find some of the content offensive, I guarantee you’ll walk away enlightened. The film raises so many questions and explores so many topics that it would be impossible not to become engaged by it. So don’t be daunted by the four hour running time (you watched Return of the King, didn’t you?). This is bold, hilarious, sad, beautiful, ridiculous, and awesome cinema. Go watch it!
5 out of 5