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Love Exposure

Love Exposure

By Arpad Lukacs • January 27th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Omega Project

Original release: November 29th, 2008
Running time: 237 minutes

Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese

Writer and director: Sion Sono

Cast: Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima, Sakura Andou, Atsuro Watabe, Makiko Watanabe

Love Exposure

I must admit, the most obvious feature of Sion Sono’s Love Exposure held me back for a while from seeing the film. At the same time, however, I couldn’t be anything but curious about what makes a filmmaker keep the running time of a movie as long as four hours.

I would’ve been sceptical, assuming this is probably the result of an ego that outgrew its own boundaries, but for Sion Sono, I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Suicide Club (2002), the first film in his incomplete trilogy about a sinister death cult is one of my favourite films and I find his body of work one of the most intriguing ones out there. So eventually, the day arrived when I felt ready for its epic length and I submerged into Love Exposure.

It’s the unorthodox running time that ends up giving the film the luxury of not having to hold a consistent tone. The comedic drama about a teenaged boy trying to appease the Catholic priest – who’s also his father – gets progressively darker as new characters and a sinister religious cult emerge on the horizon. The teenaged boy Yu (Takahiro Nishijima) would be quite an average kid amongst his peers if it wasn’t for his religious upbringing that ultimately drifts him towards crime. While Yu’s initially a mere passive observer of his father’s endeavours, who just can’t seem to decide whether he likes priesthood more than he likes women, the old man’s good old fashioned Catholic guilt eventually sucks him into a world of irrational attempts to please the divine being and its watchful eyes.

Love Exposure

Yu’s tormented father begins to torment his son which eventually crystallises in frequent and frequently weird sessions of confessionals where sins need to be confessed regardless of truth. Because Yu isn’t a good liar, he does the only thing he can in order to be able to confess sins – he sins. This new sinful life introduces him to the art of upskirt photography and with that – or in spite of that – he eventually falls in love.

Although Yu’s the film’s protagonist, another thing the running time can accommodate is an in-depth look into the personalities and backgrounds of two other characters: the love of his life Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) and the villainous cult leader Aya (Sakura Andou) will both be just as familiar to the audience as Yu is. Theirs is a love story with a consistently recurring critique of religion and religious devotion, in which the director pushes his characters’ emotional boundaries to breaking point – something that may be familiar to fans of Sion Sono.

Love Exposure has many facets that could make the film an ideal candidate for a mini-series if we wanted to find a conventional presentation to shove the film into, but at the end of the day, who’s to say how long a film should be? The comedic elements are quite brilliant with some Love Exposuretruly quotable lines like “All perverts are created equal” or “Jesus is better than Kurt Cobain” that – in context – are more than just hilarious sound bites. The film’s only theme that’s truly consistent from beginning to end – therefore a strong argument for the long running time – is its criticism of religion that grows progressively and takes the story into a much darker world that makes us think about the cheeky practice of upskirt photography as rather innocent fun in comparison.

Vague dogma is interpreted in strange and sinister ways and Aya, who was a victim of child abuse, recognises how she can finally gain control and take her revenge on humanity by exploiting our apparently innate tendency to believe. But let’s not forget that Yu’s only connection to his beloved mother, who passed away, is also a religious symbol he needs in order to introduce her to Yoko. Sono does take us to many dark places in Love Exposure, but this is precisely why the eventual triumph of love is so cathartic.

Yu and Yoko meeting for the first time is proclaimed a miracle, but the journey for these two to ‘really meet’ is only yet to come, and it’s a difficult one with many obstacles. The considerable number of awards that came in the way of Love Exposure would probably indicate the overall quality of the piece, and indeed, it’s a film to be seen, even for those who don’t really like the “long ones”.

Love Exposure

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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