Love Exposure (Cert 18)
2 Discs (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 237 minutes approx.
Made in 2008 Sion Sono’s epic tale of love, death, sex, violence, religion, family, religious cults, pornography, ninja upskirt photography and cross dressing was not just a breakthrough opus for the erstwhile cult horror director but a landmark achievement in modern Asian cinema.
First released in the UK in 2010 it has since been regarded as a contemporary classic which tore up the rule book and now, Third Window Films have re-issued Love Exposure on Blu-ray with a brand new HD transfer on just one disc (instead of being split across two as before), updated subtitles and a host of new extras. This then gives us a chance to re-evaluate this monumental esoteric gem once again.
The sprawling and very involved plot largely revolves around Yu Tsunoda (Takahiro Nishijima) a young boy born into a devout Christian family and the renegade school girl Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima).
Yu is the son of a widowed Catholic priest Tetsu (Atsuro Watabe) who, after becoming smitten with then dumped by a fallen woman Saori (Makiko Watanabe) turns bitter and preaches constantly about sin. He forces Yu to confess his sins but the do gooder has none to confess, so to win his father’s approval, Yu hooks up with a group of local miscreants and begins sinning, becoming an expert in Kung Fu Panty Shot photography! After losing a dare, Yu dresses up in women’s clothes in public, resembling Meiko Kaji’s iconic 70’s character Miss Scorpion. During the dare Yu sees a schoolgirl fighting off a group of thugs alone so he jumps in to help her. The girl is Yoko and after the fight, Yoko thinks she has found her saviour while Yu thinks he has found the girl of his dreams.
However Yoko hates all men (except Kurt Cobain) after being abused by her father – whom she would only refer to as “the asshole” – who would bring a new “mother” home on a frequent basis. One “mother” turned out to be Saori and she and Yoko strangely bond. When Saori left the Asshole, she took Yoko with her and reunites with Testu and they plan to marry, making Yoko and Yu effective brother and sister. Yoko is still unaware that the Miss Scorpion she declares her love for is Yu, whom she hates, yet he is in love with her. To further compound the situation, the nasty Koike Aya (Sakura Ando) shows up – herself also abused by her devout father – and pretends to be Scorpion and having a lesbian affair with Yoko while teasing Yu about knowing all of his secrets – including his King Pervert status for his panty shot activities.
Amazingly that is just half of the story, with the matter of Koike’s involvement in a religious cult known as the Zero Church who lure then brainwash families – with Yu’s extended family being a prime target; Yu’s promise to his mother to save himself for his own Maria (the Virgin Mary) whom he believes to be Yoko; not to mention that Yu only gets aroused when he sees Yoko which puts her off as she tries to treat him like a brother. Or that Koike makes Yu work for a porno film company in order to see Yoko again. And the climax of the film takes the story into a whole new direction yet again. Truly a something for everyone type film – if you are appalled or offended by one scene, something lighter will be along shortly after to appease. Or maybe not.
Sion Sono has been described as something of a maverick in Japanese cinema adding his own bleak and unique twist to the horror genre with such films as Suicide Club and EXTE. But with his “Hate Trilogy” – concluding with Cold Fish and Guilty Of Romance – Sono broke new ground and found a bolder and even more unique voice for himself, which resonates deeply in his latest work Himizu. Even with this growing maturity in his work Love Exposure remains his most ambitious film to date.
Don’t be intimidated by the running time – this film does not drag and everything moves at a decent pace and with so many topics to explore the time just flies by. There is not one point where things get too heavy or boring – although the abundance of panty shots may be off putting for some. The bulk of the first half is mostly comedy ranging from the zany to the satirical to the bawdy to flat out hilarity. The second half is more dramatic as the focus shifts to the implosion of Yu’s family thanks to Koike’s manipulation and the subsequent brainwashing of the Zero Church. The final act is pure melodrama and an incredible piece of cinema that is touching without the schmaltz.
Aside from the expansive narrative Sono isn’t afraid to experiment with scene composition and the camerawork enables the viewer to feel as much a part of the journey as the characters rather than just an observer. The script is bristling with satirical barbs, keen observations and personal rhetoric while each character is clearly defined and developed. Sono has proven to have a keen eye for talent and has helped give a huge leg up to some of Japanese cinema’s current hottest young prospects. Takahiro Nishijima and Hikari Mitsushima give the performances of their young lives, the latter having proven herself in a variety of roles following this film while indie queen Sakura Ando continues to revel in and delight audiences and film maker alike with her versatility.
Love Exposure is likely to divide audiences, as will much of Sono’s work, but for those discerning film buffs with a taste for the challenging and adventurous, this is arguably the most important Asian film of the past decade and it just got better with this new HD transfer. Possibly the easiest “BUY IT” recommendation you’ll ever see on this site!
Disc 2 only:
1 hour “Making Of” feature
30 minute interview with the person who inspired the film
Sakura Ando Deleted & Extended Scenes
Hikari Mitsushima Deleted & Extended Scenes
Zero Church Deleted Scenes
Third Window Films Trailers
Rating – *****
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