Sunday, September 13, 2009


Ai no mukidashi(Love Expousre)(2008) Directed By Sion Sono
"If church was a fan club for Jesus Christ I would join"-Sion Sono. Love Exposure is Sion Sono's first truly great film, and maybe masterpiece. As much as I was legitimately creeped out and disturbed by his previous modern horror classic "Suicide Circle" I was equally bored and repulsed by his "Strange Circus", so much so I had written Sonno off as a hack who got lucky. Love Exposure continues Sono's themes of alienated youth on the fringes of cults and the extremes of pop culture, but here he gives himself the freedom to be funny, sweet, frail, absurd, and exciting. The story(4 hours in length) begins with a catholic boy named Yu whose mother dies, but not before asking to him to swear that he will find a woman like the Virgin Mary to make his wife. His father out of grief dedicates himself to the priesthood, and all is well until a romantic "detour" in his life, leaves him a sin obsessed and emotionally vacant shell whose jeremiad's and interrogations of his son become his only solace.He insists Yu make daily confessions, and though Yu wants to oblige, he cant think of any wrongs he might possibly have committed, that is until he begins committing some sins of his own. His small sins are quickly not enough for his father who thinks he's just making it up and not really concerned with sin and thus his immortal soul.It is only when he meets a group of street kids, and begins learning the secret art of up skirt panty photography (peek-a-panty), that his father reacts and beats him, finally not acting like an impartial priest but an enraged father.This plan backfires a bit for Yu when his father moves out of the house completely, to live in the church and be "closer to God". This is all played out in black comedy fashion, the peek-a-panty training sequence which uses elements of kung-fu and acrobatics to capture the naughty pics, being some of the most especially funny.Yu's incorruptibility while he performs these increasingly corrupt acts is another thing that keeps this movie from wallowing in its transgressions. Yu only wants his father to love him and really does believe his sins will please him and bring them closer together. In fact none of the characters even the film's villain, the young leader and "criminal mastermind" of the Zero Church (a scientology/Aum inspired cult; the Aum carried out the deadly Serin gas attacks in a Tokyo subway in 1995, an event which seems central to much of Sono's work) named Koike, who strokes a small green parrot like a James Bond villain, is motivated throughout the havoc she wreaks, not by a desire for world domination, by her love for Yu.Yu while out one day in drag after losing a bet, encounters a group of inexplicable street toughs harassing a girl, who comes to resemble "his Maria" the girl he has been searching for all this time (and who he insists he will know because she will be the first to give him an erection and an "erect heart") named Yoko. What ensues is a kung fu fight in town square, that ends with a sweet if confusing kiss, exchanged by the star crossed lovers.Confusing because Yoko (his Maria), believes her first kiss was with a woman (Ms. Scorpion) and that she may now be a lesbian, which coincides nicely with her understandable "hatred of men" stemming from her abusive father. To make a four hour story short, Yu and Yoko become step brother and sister, and Yu is put in a Tootsie/Spiderman like position of having created an alter-ego the love of his life is more interested in than "the real him".
Then things heat up, dramatically and under the collar, when Koike whose been observing impassively for the first hour or so, enters the picture claiming to be Ms. Scorpion (who according to Lauren Baggett at, resembles "Meiko Kaji's character from the Female Prisoner Scorpion?"), and seducing Yoko (in many a lesbian school girl make-out session) in order to get closer to Yu.I'll stop there with plot, because there are still two and half more hours I would have to describe. The first two hours play out fast and furious, jam packed with ideas, gags, and style, but from then on in things slowdown and become more emotional. For awhile I felt like I was back in high school. Yoko's canonization of Kurt Cobain as the only man besides Jesus she approves of smacks of truth. At least when and where I was growing up, nearly every girl I knew had some form of Cobain image their wall or notebook like portraits of Jesus in the homes old ladies.Goodness and perversion are the two twin themes throughout the film, just as I’ve said each character is motivated in some ways by love, but they all different definitions of what love is. These definitions are more often than not imposed by some social barrier or psychological scar from childhood.Both female characters Yoko and Koike were abused growing up, and where Yoko rejects men completely, Koike forms an intense obsession with Yu who she sees as kindred spirit, but who she lacks the necessary social skills to interact with in any way, aside from cultish conversion and domination she's been raised to understand.Yu is the central character and the classic young prince pure of heart to a fault, but over the course of the film he matures, albeit in strange ways. The beach sequence, my favorite portion of the film, where Yoko recites Corinthians 13, shows Yu not timid or guilty, insisting that he is "...a pervert, but not a phony. I'm a pervert with pride.” Slight as it may seem, it’s not something he would have said at the beginning of the film when he was "only interested in sin". Likewise his explosive scene in the Zero Church, though symbolic of him "putting away childish things", ultimately fails in a fashion just as childishly and anti-climatically as Mishima did in Paul Schrader's stream of conscious bio-pic. Growing up doesn’t always mean getting wiser, and sometimes being naive (or faithful) is more useful than merely being right. Stylistically Sonno is here is most balanced and unhinged, he knows when to play it straight and when to let cinematic sparks fly, and at a 4 hour stretch were there isn’t nearly a minute of boredom or anxiousness, that's saying something.My only reservation was in some of the repetitions of the music, though a great combination of Beethoven’s 2nd/and 7th symphonies (two pieces I wouldn’t mind not ever hearing again in a film), Japanese rock and pop songs from Yaryura Teikoku (Teikoku video:, the score at times sounds like it's stuck on a loop, though mostly it's spot-on in highlighting the emotional content which is in a constant roller coaster.Some may be bothered by the "weirdness", "perversity", or sacrilege in the film, but everything is in its right place, in its right measure, and nothing is exploitative. The immersion in perversion and the obscene recalls another great modern spiritual film Abel Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant" where bodies are used and abused with drugs and degraded sex, in order to make the contrast between the spiritual and non physical more clear.Ken Russell’s The Devils and Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, both focus on the material, hostile, and outrageous, to show the pure spirit; God struggling in the world, as the spirit/mind struggles with the body. For Sono the material world is one of porn, guilt, self flagellation, but above all love. Though love may lead take on one on many a strange "detour" in life, it ultimately really does conquer all (see Corinthians 13 ).As extreme as some of this sounds it is never morose, the characters are vulnerable "exposed to love" and its effects, like a post-modern "A Midsummer Nights Dream". Love Exposure finds a perfect middle ground between the camp and kitsch of "Kill Bill" and the genuine emotions of adolescent love and repression funneled through the fantasy vein of "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" or "Punch Drunk Love" .As a once awkward teenager, from a home that became very religious nearly over-night, I understood allot of Yu's feelings and frustrations in a way often difficult to articulate to those who've grown under different circumstances. Unlike him I moved away from the very faith that Yu and many of the characters remain grounded in throughout the film. Though the satire of religion like the Zero Church chapel resembling the Catholic Church that Yu's father runs is easy to spot, the blasphemies of the film are not those of the characters, who are all with the exception of Kioke, genuine believers.They are imperfect, but not hypocrites, in the usual all-to-easy way it can be to pick on Christian "squares" in movies like this. The faith of the characters, like their various love lives is unwavering and a source of strength, when the modern world of sex, death, violence, porn (all body related), consistently fragment their lives. The line between cult and organized religion gets plenty blurry, but the matters of the spirit are real and the characters grapple with them honestly, owing in large to the run time which manages to give even the most unlikely motivations their own brand of naturalism.Yoko says there are invisible bullets racing around the city, and no one ever sees them, no one knows there’s always a war going on; always a reason to fight. Only faith and chance allows her and all of us to survive walking between them. When comparing Sonno's complex vision of the lives of 17 year olds to the narcissistic holographic bubble the American kid of the same age in "Gamer" occupies, it’s easy to visualize Yoko's invisible bullets flying, skewering and scarring whole generations.But like I said before, Love Exposure doesn’t lament the big bad world, but uses its often very very funny horrors and obscene obstacles to show the resilience, humor, and naive bravery needed to combat it. This movie is a strange brew of the theatrical and the uncommonly sensitive like a madlib Japanese translation of Leos Carax's "The Lovers On The Bridge" by Takashi Miike. If at times it feels like there are no repercussions for anything the characters do I would remind them of Carax's ecstatic vision of romance, and the already existing, and almost conservative to a point, view of religion and transcendence. Any art teacher will tell you much of medieval art, especially that in churches had a dual educational/erotic function of enticing the spectators with images of sins they were prohibited from committing. I live across the streat from a church and the bells rang on the hour every hour, as I was watching this, like punctuation (or the fight bell telling the boxers to take a break before the next round). Sono (who was a poet and performance artist, of some merit before becoming a film director) uses his film to explodes this teasing between sacred and the profane (the word "taboo" means both), and runs away with the sensation not only of falling in love (Yu's relationship is no more "real" than Slumdog Millionaire's) but in "keeping the faith"; Yu's oath to his mother to find Maria (a replacement mother/saviour).Not wanting to rest on first impressions alone I watched the film a second time, paying extra attention to my favorite scenes, and I think it still holds up remarkably. It's not for everyone, but universality in art, only makes for the most watered-down generic product that aims only to avoid alienating any potential demographic, instead of doing the harder job of overcoming said alienation, which is perhaps to some a fools errand, but this film makes a beautiful holy thing of being foolish.For these reasons and too many more to write down, Sonos up-skirt peek-a-panty ninja quest for the Virgin Mary as Holy Grail is one of the best love stories, coming of age tales, and movies of the decade. This movie is a strange brew of the theatrical and the uncommonly sensitive, in a way that has to be seen for yourself. I hope when it gets released stateside it comes with its full run time intact, because it's the first four hour movie I’ve ever seen that I sincerely didn’t want to end. Though Sono has said it wont happen, I am hoping against hope, for a six hour cut to turn up one day.

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