When asked to do a piece on the next five star film, Sion Sono’s extremely epic contemporary Japanese odyssey Love Exposure ( Ai no mukidashi) immediately filled my head. Sono has somehow managed to contradict; focusing all of his efforts but also dispelling them into the broadest love story imaginable. Traipsing practically everywhere across Tokyo with a rough and ready look enhanced with contemporary cinematography, there is so much to see and consider; Love Exposure probably even has the kitchen sink in it if you look hard enough. It ran the festival circuit to some derision and much notoriety and was to be the first of Sono’s ‘hate’ trilogy, with the other two being the also excellent Cold Fish and Guilty of Romance. So why then am I so damn excited by this film? I present five compelling reasons that will hopefully convince you to view it immediately.
1. That length
Love Exposure has a running time of 237 minutes! Don’t leave just yet, it is this mammoth length that completes this film and the main reason it is of a five star calibre. The producers demanded Sono cut the film down from his intended SIX HOURS and he did that to the best of his abilities. Frankly I would relish the opportunity to see the six hour one because put simply Love Exposure does not drag, feel boring or make you feel any of the side-effects a two hour plus film might make you feel. Sono has expertly used classical music, running in the background in almost every scene, the transitions of the music match the unbelievable frenetic and constantly evolving pace. Something is always happening and it is never how you expect. Of course the film has an intermission which is perfectly placed but when I viewed this at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2008 they failed to acknowledge it, butts however were still firmly in seats, not one complaint or walkout as everyone was having way too much fun.
2. A love story that traverses every boundary you can think of
There is so much that happens in Love Exposure that the protagonists run the gamut from comedy, romance, drama, action, thriller, crime and many other hybrid genres and back again. In fact it is also a mystery, a clique of strange young girls (pictured above) stalk the two protagonists and when their vested interests become clear you seriously second-guess what sort of film you have been watching. Like all the films in Sono’s hate trilogy and arguably his career, he vents about the fallacies of modern day Japan, using extreme examples to illustrate his point. Love Exposure is an amalgamation of every societal ill and faux pas that is possible to put to celluloid. The beauty however, is that ultimately it is a love story between two people, and yet parables of society, politics, humanity, organised crime, the sex industry, traditional culture, family, school, friendships, religion and even cults to name but just a few punctuate the film constantly. Countdown to miracle as the film constantly reminds us of the days and hours remaining to this enigma, coupled with a chapter based narrative with particular focuses on key characters, the well never runs dry.
3. Laughing out loud
I think I almost died the first time I saw Love Exposure, the comedy is so good and so inappropriate at the right moments, it is in fact a miracle that the films balances so many elements and yet each one stands out; the comedy is no exception. There is an anime and rom-com parody inspired section of Love Exposure where the protagonist Yu (pictured above) is caught in the most cringe-worthy and bizarre scenario possible as he inadvertently tricks the object of his love into thinking he is a woman (long story, see the film) who she unfortunately falls in love with and of course hates him not knowing who he is pretending to be. Another incredible montage sees him practicing the art of pervert and ‘panty-peek time’ something your imagination cannot even fathom.
Pictured above is the object of the protagonist’s obsession and desire Yoko, or is it love? To him it is his ‘Maria’ the holy virgin he searches for but has not yet met. The representation is clear and symbolism is rife throughout Love Exposure as it spitefully but intelligently satires and indicts religion. If there was one element I had to pick above the many in Love Exposure, it would be the religious slant; the protagonist’s father is a priest, his ideal ‘Maria’ is a seemingly innocent girl and it all comes to a head when the church of 0, a bizarre but popular cult infiltrate all of their lives, once again changing the film entirely. Love Exposure is probably the only film ever made to make such bold statements about religion in such a supremely entertaining way and still tying it back to the main story. The fact all of these elements come together and work to the absolute best of their ability makes Love Exposure such an impressive film that I can hardly believe it.
5. Rewatching it
Like any five star film you’d have to want to rewatch it. Love Exposure sounds like such a slog and the allusions to religion also sound like something not entirely pleasant and that you would desperately want to revisit. However it is so rewarding to watch the film again, and again and strangely it just never gets old, flat or boring. I cannot really explain why Love Exposure works so well, sometimes the stars align and a director’s passion is pushed to its limits, creating a beautiful piece of art you can appreciate on so many levels; Love Exposure is that film, a masterwork that keeps giving and upon typing all this I want to watch it again, as this simple article barely sums up the sublime and wordless experience you can have with this film.
Kwenton Bellette - follow Kwenton Twitter here: @Kwenton
Lucky for you Madman have released it in Australia on DVD, but If you love Love Exposure like I do, then order the UK Bluray from Third Window films.
Kwenton Bellette is extremely passionate about Asian film and the resurgence of new waves taking place in Korea, Japan and China in the last 10 years. He joined the global site Twitchfilm in 2009, is the artistic director of the Fantastic Asia Film Festival is Melbourne and currently studies a film masters degree at Melbourne University. He is very excited to raise further awareness of the what he thinks is the most exciting film industry in the world.