Action / Thrillers, Comedy, Drama, Films, Japan, Reviews

Love Exposure

Director Sion Sono follows up Exte: Hair Extensions with an equally unpredictable (nearly) four-hour epic love story… of sorts… available on UK Blu-Ray at last!…

It’s not something you might expect, but Catholic religion seems to be taking something of a central role in Asian films lately. In Park Chan-wook’s Thirst he portrayed it as a surprisingly progressive (at least in comparison to our Western interpretation) faith, ready to accept and integrate a vampiric priest as part of God’s work. In Sion Sono’s Love Exposure it seems anything but, and as impenetrable and bizarre as any cult. However, both directors use it as the basis for their exploration of morals and sexual desire.

When Yu (Takahiro Nishijima) loses his mother at an early age, his father turns to becoming a Catholic priest in order to deal with his grief. If anything, his father’s new life brings them closer together, until a rather emotionally unstable parishioner seduces his father. This, in turn, causes his father to take out his guilt on Yu, he forces him to attend confession as often as possible. As he quickly runs out of false transgressions to own up to, he turns to finding new and real sins to confess – the most successful of which being taking clandestine ‘panty shots’ of women on the streets.

Such antics bring him to the attention of Aya Koike (Sakura Ando, Crime Or Punishment) – con artist, coke dealer and regional leader of a religious ‘Zero’ cult – who decides she can manipulate Yu to her own ends. Shortly after their meeting, he also encounters man-hating (bar Kurt Cobain) schoolgirl Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima, Shaolin Girl, Death Note: The Last Name, Death Note) and falls instantly in love with her (though at the time he’s disguised as a woman at the time due to losing a bet with his friends).

Then Yu finds out Yoko become his stepsister: can he ever reveal his identity and win her over – let alone his double life as the ‘King Of Perverts’ – or will he just be unwilling pawn in Aya’s plans?

At nearly four hours in length you might expect Love Exposure to be something of a mind-numbing (and bum-numbing!) experience, but Sion Sono’s titanic love story is anything but. It’s funny, quirky, and even poignant in places. There’s a clever use of pace, starting slow and eventually building itself into a frenzy in the first half – yet a strange lack of direction permeates the second half, undoing all his good work, and hardly making this the defining work of Sion’s career as some have suggested.

The allegedly bizarre cult (though for the main part depicted as little more outlandish than Catholicism itself) tantalisingly echoes that in 20th Century Boys. But before you go thinking that the film is about to reveal the same sort of overlapping complexities –particularly once Aya becomes involved – will find the latter half somewhat simplistic. If anything, Aya’s motives remain frustratingly unspoken, beyond her being as besotted with Yu as he is with Yoko.

(You might also find the whole ‘original sin’ shtick a bit obvious…)

Sion’s continual returning to the theme of parental abuse and neglect, oddly present in all the leads lives to varying degrees, hints at issues of his own he may well need to sort out. However, if that is the case he definitely brings no resolution to them here.

Perhaps the weakest element is the lack of on-screen chemistry between Takahiro Nishijima and Hikari Mitsushima. Takahiro’s quirky and (without meaning offense) somewhat effeminate looks may make him believable when he cross-dresses, but hardly as a suitable romantic interest for the feisty (at least initially) and unbelievably cute Hikari. Somehow, you can’t stop thinking she could do an awful lot better –not helped by the fact that Yu’s character is oddly not as sympathetic as it should be. If you’re going to stick with the film for nearly four hours, then you need to.

Ultimately, Sion hints at the quirkiness of Tetsuya Nakashima’s films like Kamikaze Girls and Memories Of Matsuko. He even does a pretty good job of it, making the length feel anything but four hours – but sadly without endearing you to his characters. And you don’t make a four-hour film just because you can.

In short, Love Exposure is interesting, likeable – even good in places – but not quite the masterpiece it might have been, had it carried on with the gusto of the first half.

Love Exposure is released today on Blu-ray on 13 August 2012, released by Third Window Films. The two-disc DVD is available now.

Review originally published 28 October 2009.

Home media details

Distributor: Third Window (UK)

Edition: Blu-Ray (2012)

Love Exposure comes to UK Blu-Ray with a fine disc.

This adds to the original hour-long with loads of extras, including and additional 30 minute Making Of with Sion Sono interview, Hikari Mitsushima deleted & extended scenes, Sakura Ando deleted & extended scenes, and Zero Church deleted scene.

(Yes, I bet you’re wondering how a four-hour film could have that many deleted scenes?

This is a must for fans of the film, even if you bought the original DVD...

Distributor: Third Window (UK)

Edition: 2-disc DVD (2009)

Love Exposure comes to UK DVD unsurprisingly stretched over two discs (perfect case for a Blu-ray release, you might think?)

There's an extensive hour-long documentary that like most original Asian docs gives an insightful (if overly detailed) look at the making of the film. However, the original trailer, and trailers for Third Windows, might not be enough to entice UK audiences to purchase this version.

Third Window better hurry up with that Blu-ray, then? It’s here!...

About the author

Andrew Heskins
Founder of easternKicks.com, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
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15 thoughts on “Love Exposure

  1. Ed Buxton says:

    I think Love Exposure is a fantasic film, worth more than 3 stars. Then again I would give his film Himizu more than 2.5, but that's just me. Be interesting to see how The Land Of Hope turns out like.

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