Four hours in the company of love, obsession and romance. It’s enough to make a grown man reach for the remote control. But don’t be too hasty with that there wandering hand. Looks can be deceiving, and that’s definitely the case with cult director Sion Sono's quirky marathon feature, Love Exposure.
Having already won us over with films like Suicide Club (a dark, delicious favourite) and Noriko's Dinner Table (a sequel that arguably outweighs the original), Sono serves up a twisted opus of love, obsession, martial arts, underwear and violence. Nishijima Takahiro (he was in a pop group) makes his film debut - alongside Mitsushima Hikari (Death Note) and Ando Sakura (Kaze no Sotogawa) - as a teen who takes upskirt photos.
This guy is quite clearly the prince of perverts, and the rest of the cast don’t fare much better. In Sono’s twisted world, each and every one of them has their own quirky cross to bare. Winner of the Caligari Film Award and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival, Love Exposure takes on religion, family and sexuality. Miraculously, at close to four hours long, it remains an absolute riot from start to finish.
17-year-old Yu (Nishijima Takahiro) is the son of an upstanding widowed priest (Watabe Atsuro) who has recently become involved in an illicit relationship with a troubled parishioner (Watanabe Makiko). It all goes a bit wrong when Yu’s father takes a turn for the worst, and the only way he can satisfy his father’s dark demands is to commit sin after woeful sin.
Yu is saving his first sexual experience for the perfect girl, and he thinks he's found her in the form of Yoko (Mitsushima Hikari), a sassy schoolgirl who beats up guys just for the hell of it. Yu falls hard for Yoko, but in order to fulfil his obsession he has to take on the identity of a kick-ass femme-fatale by the name of Miss Scorpion. Add to the mix a fanatical cult recruiter called Aya (Ando Sakura), who has her eyes on both Yoko and Yu, and it all gets a little bit complicated. But then, we are talking about love here.
Love Exposure is a love story of sorts, but that’s not even telling half the tale. In fact, to fully appreciate Sono’s sublime oddity, you need to get acquainted with his back catalogue. Suicide Club was a quirky, offbeat offering that found a cult following worldwide. Love Exposure however, owes more to the style and themes of its sequel, Noriko’s Dinner Table. I say sequel, the two films are loosely connected but demonstrate both sides of the Sono Sion coin. Exte: Hair Extensions was Sono’s surprisingly effective attempt at Asian horror, and by combining the different genres, Love Exposure is considered by many to be his biggest success.
The performances are spot on, the characters are enthralling and the movie themes are compulsive. Four hours appears daunting on paper but the time just flies, such are the richness and depth of the characters and circumstances inherent. We have love, honour, faith, perversion, sexuality, cults, religion and martial arts to cover here. When you put it that way, four hours probably aren't enough. Having said that, you’ll do well to embrace the eccentricity of Love Exposure in one sitting.
If you're not totally convinced, consider the following fact. Love Exposure is a romantic endeavour that takes up-skirt shots, erections, martial arts face-offs and bloody carnage just as seriously as the big L - what’s not to love about that? Take a chance and expose yourself today. AW