One of the longest, strangest and best films I’ve ever seen, Love Exposure is a four hour long Japanese epic written and directed by acclaimed director Shion Sono which tackles themes such as love, lust, religion, the family unit, loss and…um… up skirt photography.
Rather than a plot summery, here is a brief outline of the five main characters. Hopefully it will put across the magnificent uniqueness of this fantastic film.
Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is a seventeen year old Priest’s son. Following sorrow in his father’s life, the Priest only allows Yu to see him during confession. Yu ends up desperately searching for Sins to commit so that he can tell his father and drifts into the world of up skirt photography which he becomes a master of due to his martial arts skills. After loosing a bet regarding who has the best photo, his friends dare him to dress up as a woman and find a girl to kiss. He comes across a young woman called Yoko who he instantly knows is his ‘Mary’. The only problem is that when they meet, he is in drag as ‘Miss Scorpion’…Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) is the same age as Yu and lives with her father’s ex lover Kaori. Her father abused her as a child and as a result she hates all men. One day she is confronted and attacked by a group of men but saved when a strange woman called Miss Scorpion comes to her rescue. She falls instantly in love but at the same time is forced to move in with Kaori’s new lover and his son, Yu who she hates with a passion.
Kaori (Makiko Watanabe) is an early middle aged woman who has spent her life going from one man to another. Along the way she has picked up the daughter of one of these men, Yoko. The two of them bonded as friends and now wherever Kaori goes, Yoko follows. Depressed one day, Kaori finds herself in a Church where she forces herself on the Priest.
Tetsu Honda (Atsuro Watabe) is a Priest, widower and father to Yu. Conflicted between his faith and love of a new woman he starts putting pressure on his son to Sin before eventually disowning him altogether when it becomes clear that his Sins have got out of hand. Along with Kaori and Yoko, he is indoctrinated into a cult called the
Aya Koike (Sakura Ando) is a member of the Zero Church Cult who indoctrinate families into their circle. Like Yoko she too was abused by her father but instead of escaping, chopped off his penis when he was asleep. Aya turns her attention to Yu and his family when she sees an opportunity to indoctrinate them.
As you can tell from that rather long opening the film is completely bonkers and I haven’t even mentioned half of the crazy stuff that goes on (think porn, samurai swords, blackmail, erections, mental illness). Although it is weird and often funny it is never ‘zany’ and manages to keep the right side of the quirky line. This is a dramatic piece rather than a throwaway popcorn movie. Given the long run time there is so much plot that it would take pages to explain but it never feels too long or like they could have left a bit out. Every scene feels as though it belongs and none of them outstay their welcome. We get a little bit of back story from the three younger leads with each narrating over their own part of the plot. Once or twice they overlap as though talking telepathically to each other. The three young characters become involved in a strange love triangle which at times makes all three unhappy and adds to the complexity (and length) of the plot.
The many themes are dealt with very well. Religion and in particular the Catholic faith is at the heart of the film. Yu’s sins are at the axis of the film’s plot and he refers to knicker snapping as his original sin. Later when trying to save another character from the
cult, religious text is used in one of the tensest scenes the film has to
offer. The theme of Love is also at the centre throughout with each character
falling in and out of love with others. The central relationship of Yu and Yoko
is beautiful though and despite everything around it makes for a touching love
story. The idea of a modern family unit is one which is often bought to the
fore too. Yu and his father begin the film as a family but the dynamic shifts
several times as other characters come and go while the cult slowly inserts its
influence. Zero Church
There are so many great aspects to Love Exposure that it’s difficult to keep this short. Briefly though one of my favourite things was the soundtrack, which was absolutely incredible. Fusing classical and rock it is great to listen to and works perfectly in tandem with the film. A couple of tracks including Ravel’s Bolero, Beethoven's 7th and the magnificent Kûdô Desu (Hollow Me) by Yura Yura Teikoku are played on a loop and pop up at certain times to help the film bring all of its strands together. I highly recommend searching out the songs above and the likes of Into the Next Night by Tsuki no Yoru E. Another great thing about Love Exposure is the acting. Lead actor Hikari Mitsushima is outstanding in his complex and ever changing role. He has a brilliant smile and great martial arts skills but carries the emotional weight of the film on his shoulders with great dexterity. Hikari Mitsushima is also great as Yoko, throwing caution to the wind in an eye opening role. For such a cute (and hot) looking girl she manages to maintain an alluring edge to her performance while remaining innocent and sweet. While these two stand out, the whole cast is excellent, even going as far as Yu’s pervert friends and the other
members. What stands out above everything else though is the script. It is
simply sublime and like nothing else I’ve ever seen or likely will ever see.
The four hour run time doesn’t feel too long for such a strange, complex and
compelling story and if anything I’d have been happy for it to go on even
longer. Zero Church
Occasionally the low budget makes itself known with shoddy camerawork and sometimes cheap looking cinematography but for me this just added to the films realism. At times it felt like a documentary despite the crazy Catholic Guilt/Transvestism/Pervert stuff that was obviously not real. Director Shion Sono takes us away from the action though by constructing barriers such as a countdown to a 'miricle' and having the film split into chapters. The result keeps us hooked and interested but satisfyingly separated from the action.
This rather long and confusing review doesn’t do Love Exposure justice; you’ll just have to take my word for it. If you aren’t averse to something a little unusual or a film on the long side then I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve seen it twice now and after the shock and awe of my first viewing I’m now appreciating its beauty and plot. There are films which are better made, there are films which have bigger names or better action or funnier lines but there are few which are as good as Love Exposure.