Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Exposure (Sion Sono, 2008)

Hikari Mitsushima as Yoko in Love Exposure (2008).

I've never been a big fan of Sion Sono, perhaps unfairly since I've only seen three of his earlier films, Suicide Circle (2001), Strange Circus (2005) and Exte (2007) and they all felt too fragmented and unfinished to be really enjoyable, even though they also had their high points. Going into Love Exposure I kept my earlier experiences with Sono in mind while at the same time being excited about finally getting to see it after reading all the reviews and top 10 lists claiming it to be the movie of the year in 2009. I have to admit though that arguments like "it's 4 hours long, how original!!" and "it's full of crazy!!!" doesn't do it for me like it did 10 years ago when I started out watching Japanese films.

So what's it about? Well, it's hard to say, for a movie with a four hour running time I felt that Love Exposure manages to say very little about the subjects it brings up, religion, extremism, love, passion, acceptance, sex and sin. I guess finding balance between the body and mind, religion and love without letting one or the other take over completely is a theme in the movie, perhaps best represented in the character of the father who decides to become a catholic priest after his wife dies and then finds love again with another woman, who later leaves him which turns him even more into a religious fanatic.

The main part of the story is a love triangle between Yu, the son of the priest, who is forced to commit sins so he'll have something to tell his father in confession which makes him turn to photographing girls' underwear in the streets, Yoko, a high school girl who was sexually abused by her father and is now a man hating ass kicking machine who has run away together with her stepmom Kaori who is the love of Yu's father and Koike, another teenage girl who is a member of the Zero Church cult and who, for some reason, wants to ruin Yu's relationship with Yoko and his family. So basically it's four hours of identity mix-ups, kung fu, praying and up skirt photography.

My feeling here is that I probably just didn't get it, the characters struggles with their emotions probably would mean more to someone who's better suited to analyze these things, but at the same time, I'm not sure that there is so much more beneath the surface. The film gets repetetive very quickly. Even though the settings change, four hours is a lot to sit through. It's the same situations over and over, the same dilemmas and with the performances more often than not being closer to annoying than brilliant, with the exception of Atsuro Watabe as the priest and Sakura Ando as Koike, the long running time takes its toll.

I have to say though that it's not an uninteresting film, it's still with me a few days after I've seen it, and even though I'm sure I won't ever sit through it again, this won't be the last time it crosses my mind. Sono manages to cram a lot into it, as he should with a running time like this, and while it's not executed flawlessly I feel that I'm more interested in seeing what he comes up with next than I was before. As for Love Exposure being the best film of 2009 I have to disagree, but it's not surprising it made those lists with ingredients like panty shots, girls in high school uniforms beating up guys, a lot of references to 70's pinky violence films with Yu dressing up like Meiko Kaji's Scorpion character and other random craziness. It's a geek fest.


Executive Koala said...

Praise should go to British Third Window Films for making the effort to release a film like Love Exposure and putting out stuff like their recent release Lalapipo and others like Funuke - Show some love, you losers!, Fine, Totally Fine, Memories of Matsuko and the upcoming Instant Swamp and Kakera - A piece of our life.