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Love Exposure (2008) November 30, 2009

Posted by ayasawada in Film.
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Love Exposure poster

Love Exposure is a four hour cross-genre epic about an innocent misguided young panty photographer trying to relate to his father and win over his one true love.

It sounds pervy and completely batshit insane, and in some ways, it is. But its a film well worth seeing. Exciting (in both senses of the word), touching (in both senses of the word) and moving (in both senses of the word), Sion Sono‘s opus combines contemporary Japanese perversity with romance, empathy and sensitivity, delivering comic moments, disturbing moments and downright perplexing moments.


Even though the plot is exactly the mix of Japanese weirdness and high-school romance I usually thrive on, the gargantuan running time made me more than a little reluctant. But I’m very glad I took the chance. Love Exposure is unexpectedly epic and truly surprising. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film where I really had no clue what was going to happen next.

The film follows Yu, a young boy from a good Catholic family. Things change when his mother dies and his grieving father gets ensnared by a crazy man-eater. When that goes sour, his Dad retreats further into religious obsession and the only way Yu can talk to him is through confession. Thus the poor boy is forced to carry out and confess to increasingly elaborate sins.

Yu ends up in a gang of idiotic, but well-meaning, punks but that’s not enough to provoke emotion from his father. Thus his life of small-time crime leads him to the master pervert, whose ninja training (!) enables him to become the best up-skirt photographer in the area. And that’s how he meets the love of his life — Yoko.

It might sound like I’ve just given most of the plot away, but this barely scratches the surface. In fact, it’s only after this — an hour into the film — that the opening titles kick in and the story really begins….

Yet this, and the two chapters following up are possibly the best (two hours) of set up I’ve seen in a movie. It’s a wonderful countdown to a ‘day of destiny’ that has you anticipating what the event will be, who this girl he’s been searching for will be, and how on earth it could work out given the crazy situation he finds himself in.

Propelled by a the youthful energy of its protagonists, you’re dragged into this familiar urban landscape, and constantly surprised by the switch in genre — one minute its a heartstring-tugging drama, next its a kung fu epic, then a pink movie, followed by a little Japanese B-horror.

After that it loses a bit of purpose, descending somewhat into an uncomfortable, though effective, portrayal of a Japanese cult (the motif comes up so much in Japanese conetemporary film, I do wonder if the threat is as serious as the movies make out. Or has the Tokyo gas attack of 1995 imprinted the fear onto Japanese citizens the same way the 9/11 bombings did on Americans?).

That break also sacrifices some of the films humour, plot consistency and, most disappointingly, the character development. Yoko in particular is introduced as a feisty streetfighting female, but then given little to do in the final third except act the damsel in (sort of) distress. And the rest of the characters ‘develop’ mostly by going mad.

Nevertheless, the film never loses the sweetness of teenage romance that forms the core melody of this rhapsody — even in its weirdest and most disturbing moments of cross-dressing, porn industry ‘live-events’ and child abuse.

At its heart, Love Exposure is a twisted tale of mistreated children, neglected or abused by their single parents. It’s a damning, and somewhat simplistic, account of how parents can really screw up their children’s lives. But, on the other hand, it also shows that even the most seemingly perverted youngster can have the purest motive at heart. And I’ve got to hand it to any film that really tries to explore the complex forest of neurosis that leads a Japanese pervert to be what he/she is — and accept that that’s okay.



1. Terracotta Film Festival 2012 « Canned Memory - April 22, 2012

[…] beautifully filmed, but just plain disturbing and without the element of profundity that lifted Love Exposure. But the final few scenes rescued it for me and approached that empathic moment when all the […]

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