Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono
Producer: Haruo Umekawa
Cast: Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima, Sakura Ando, Makiko Watanabe, Atsuro Watabe
Running Time: 237 min.
This is a film whose reputation precedes it – that of being one long-ass movie. “Love Exposure” is “Suicide Club” director Sion Sono’s four hour ode to love, Christianity, upskirt photography, and awkward erections. To be honest, I put “Love Exposure” into my DVD player rather late at night and didn’t expect to make it through the entire picture in one sitting. Even as a fan of Sono’s work, I had to figure that viewers were exaggerating when that said “Love Exposure’s” four hours flew right by. And yet my attention remained riveted to the screen for the movie’s entire runtime, which felt about half as long as it really was. This is simply the most immersive cinematic experience I’ve had since Gasper Noe’s “Enter the Void.” “Love Exposure” is very Japanese, potentially offensive, but also highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Asian film.
Much like “Enter the Void,” “Love Exposure” is one of the most novel-like films I’ve ever seen. The story unfolds in chapters and each one is typically narrated from a different character’s point-of-view. The title of the movie doesn’t actually flash across the screen until about 40 minutes into the picture. This opening act is fairly humorous at times, as our main protagonist Yu (Takahiro Nishijima) learns the ways of stealth upskirt photography, but it’s not until his love interest Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) is introduced that the story really gets interesting. You see, Yu meets and falls in love with Yoko while he’s in drag – so Yoko develops a crush on the woman that she thinks Yu is. Things get even more complicated when an evil cult called the Zero Church tries to turn Yoko against Yu. Believe it or not, “Love Exposure” is based partially on the true account of Sion Sono’s friend, a worker in the pornography industry who was able to rescue a girl from a cult. Among other things, the film offers the sincere message that, hey, it’s okay to be a pervert. As Yu says, “Being a pervert is just another way to live one’s life.”
The story takes many twists and turns that are impossible to predict, and it’s to Sion Sono’s credit that the film rarely lags or feels slow-paced. With such a bizarre concept, “Love Exposure” is the kind of film that could have fallen flat on its face if the actors weren’t committed to the material. But the cast, in particular our two leads Takahiro Nishijima and Hikari Mitsushima, really sell you on the reality of the film. These kids believe in the material. And surely their expressive faces were meant for the cinema: Hikari Mutsushima is such a cutie, it’s not hard to believe that Takahiro’s character would become infatuated with her.
Surprisingly, Sion Sono managed to shoot “Love Exposure” is just a month’s time. The original cut was reportedly six hours before producers told Sono to edit it down. It’s a testament to this film’s quality that I would actually be interested in viewing an even longer cut. The budget was obviously low so don’t expect superb production values; “Love Exposure” isn’t much to look at but Sono made the most of what he had. The no-frills cinematography ends up putting the emphasis on the actors, which works in “Love Exposure’s” favor. Someday, though, someone is going to give Sono a halfway decent budget and the result will most likely blow our minds.
“Love Exposure” is undoubtedly one of the best Japanese films I’ve seen. The constant shots of Japanese’s girls panties, the occasional arterial spray and genital mutilation, and the brief detour into the sex industry mean that the film’s audience might be limited. But despite the somewhat perverted context for everything, “Love Exposure” comes across as a genuinely sweet and innocent-minded film. At its heart, “Love Exposure” is a simple teenage love story. Sion Sono has crafted an irreverent take on the Christian faith that by the end actually manages to confirm all of its tenets. It reminds us of the power of first love, and how deep down we want to believe that love triumphs over all, no matter what tragic turns life throws at us. To receive love, you must give love…and sometimes that means exposing yourself in the most vulnerable of ways. I think in this film, Yu would say it’s worth the risk.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 10/10