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April 26, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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Love Exposure

‘Batshit crazy’ is not a phrase I apply to a lot of films. A film has to be completely out there to warrant such a description, and the number of films I see that are completely out there is minimal at best. However, Japanese director Sion Sono’s latest film, Love Exposure, wears that phrase all too comfortably, as though it were a garish, chocolate cake-stained, six-fingered glove. Love Exposure is a four-hour stream-of-consciousness epic dealing with themes as far-flung as love, hate, religion, perversions, identity, adolescence, growing up, a freakishly grand mess of a film that can’t help but be completely fascinating and insanely enjoyable. This is because, beneath all the Catholic angst, bloody violence, panty shots, cross-dressing and Scientology takedowns, Love Exposure is a simple and honest coming-of-age story, a tale of one boy’s coming to terms with the world around him and its myriad of hypocrisies.

The unknown Takahiro Nishijima takes centre stage in Sono’s production, playing teenaged protagonist Yu Tsudona. After his mother dies, his father, Tetsu (played with a quiet authority by Atsuro Watabe), becomes a popular Catholic priest. A few years later, a crazy moody woman named Saori (a hilariously unpredictable Makiko Watanabe) wins Tetsu’s heart, breaks it, and sends Tetsu into a spiral of destructive ultra-piety. Yu is caught in this vortex of devotion, and his father’s obsession with the sins he’s committed causes Yu to become addicted to sinning in order to appease his dad—leading Yu to taking up peek-a-panty photography. And that’s just in the first 40 minutes.

Love Exposure whips along at a fevered pace, and it never feels overlong or drags unnecessarily, even at 240 minutes. Sono’s kinetic direction and crazy-stylised sensibilities breathe an irreverent, devil-may-care life into a fascinatingly ambitious script. Meanwhile, Sono has assembled a cast of unknowns and rising stars that is close on perfect—Nishijima captures the steadfast idealism of Yu perfectly, and as his unreciprocated love interest, Hikari Mitsushima is suitably hard-nosed and stubborn; meanwhile, Sakura Ando is excellently creepy as manipulative cult recruiter Koike, controlling events with a sly smile. Love Exposure may fall apart occasionally where the execution doesn’t match the ambition (the cult subplot feels rather ham-handed, for example), but it’s an exhilarating, batshit crazy, one-of-a-kind experience that scales dizzyingly captivating heights.

Directed by: Sion Sono

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