Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Love Exposure

Four hours just fly by in this epic tale of transgression and teenage love. Director Shion Sono, who gave us the fantastic Suicide Club (2001) and the fantastically awful Noriko's Dinner Table (2005), spins a yarn that, at its core, follows the standard boy-meets-girl formula while continually spiraling off into areas like child abuse, transvestitism, religious mania, castration, incest, tosatsu (up-skirt photography) and hot schoolgirl-on-schoolgirl action. Except that it doesn't feel like that. What I mean is, the film is morally balanced in such a way that all of the perversity of modern life seems to diminish, to take its proper place in the face of true love. The beauty and power of love, whether earthly or divine, is what Sono is concerned with here, and all the other weird stuff that people get up to is presented as silly or pathetic. How refreshing!

Sono also returns to a theme explored in Noriko's Dinner Table, that of makeshift/dysfunctional families. In the world of these films (as well as Suicide Club to a degree), the Japanese family unit has been irreparably damaged, and it's up to individuals to reconstitute it, however badly or perversely. In the case of Love Exposure, the young male protagonist Yu (pop idol Takahiro Nishijima) winds up in a family situation in which the girl of his dreams, Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima, another pop idol), has become his "sister." Her "mother" (really just an ex-lover of Yoko's dirty daddy) is going to marry Yu's dad (Atsuro Watabe), a Roman Catholic priest. What's that you say? Catholic priests can't marry? Yes, this is one of many conflicts that arise in the film between contemporary Christianity and affairs of the heart (and groin).

Love Exposure enjoyed a rapturous reception on the 2009 international festival circuit, scooping up awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, Kinema Junpo Awards, Fant-Asia Film Festival and others. It's without a doubt Sono's finest work to date and could well stand as his magnum opus.

I don't want to say too much more, as this is the kind of film that's best approached with a minimum of preconceptions. I will suggest a prerequisite, however: Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. The main character in this seemingly unrelated exploitation classic from 1972 will figure largely in Love Exposure, and a familiarity with her will only serve to enhance your enjoyment of this amazing picture.

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