Love Exposure

Year: 2008
Production Co: Omega Project
Director: Shion Sono
Writer: Shion Sono
Cast: Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima

A film tailor made for the use of the tagline for marketing. And though I can't remember it exactly, I'm sure it was something like 'Love, family, betrayal... and upskirt photography.'

Plenty of films show all the hallmarks of a writer and a director far too in love with every crazy little idea, determined to jam every single one in somewhere no matter how clangingly out of place or ill-advised. That goes for the ones with generous running times like this one, too.

Love Exposure manages to avoid such pitfalls using two methods. The first is the two hundred and forty minute duration (yes, you read that right – almost four hours). The second is that despite the kaleidoscopic nature of the story, it works.

Part of the reason is because despite being a 'big' story it has a definite arc, but it's also because it treats almost every character as the lead, taking plenty of time to really sell them to us one at a time.

Young Yu grows up happy in his Christian family, but when his mother falls ill she tells him not to worry, some day he'll find his Mary – the woman who'll complete him. When she dies, his father's grief drives him to join the priesthood, where he becomes embittered and takes out his frustrations on his son by demanding he confess sins the boy can't even dream up, let alone commit.

Yu soon learns that the only way to please his father is by committing ever-worse transgressions to confess, not easy for a boy who considers not giving his seat to an old lady on the bus the height of abhorrent behaviour. He finds his way to gratuitous wrongdoing by joining an underground cabal of zen-like, martial arts-inspired guerilla photographers who take surreptitious upskirt snapshots, and the film gives us its funniest sequences as he and his fellow students and masters bound and leap about like Bruce Lee just to take photos of knickers.

At the same time, his father falls in with a vibrant but unstable woman who threatens to derail him from the path, and we also meet the formerly abused girl Yoko who falls in with her and who Yu meets during a street fight while pretending to be a woman (don't ask, just watch it) and immediately realises is his Mary.

And all the while a triptych of mysterious young women are tracking them all – recruiters from a mysterious, powerful religious cult determined to bring more members into their fold where they'll be slowly brainwashed.

Even though Yoko ends up Yu's half sister in another very strange turn of events, he remains madly in love with her, and she him (as the woman he was pretending to be when he helped her fight off a gang of thugs), and when the cult ensnares Yoko and the rest of his family, he has to exact a blood soaked intervention.

It's a thematically exhausting movie with so many ideas, icons, tones and story turns it's almost impossible to describe in a review. But it not only somehow just works, it leaves you wondering if the entire thing is a piss take of more serious action movie fare from Hollywood. In just one example, the only reason Yu knows he's found his Mary is because of the boner she gives him, a phenomenon that's played straight throughout the entire film.

It's also distinctly Japanese, with cultural fixtures we immediately recognise from wide-eyed hentai girls who are both sweetly innocent and blisteringly sexy, eastern martial arts, outrageous bloodshed and nattily dressed schoolchildren to that strange undercurrent of extreme fetishism that always seems so strange in such a conservative, respectful country.

It's long, strange, screamingly funny, gratuitous and patently refuses to be categorised. It can only be experienced.

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