Heading East: Love Exposure (2008)
The definition of “lunacy” is thrown around a lot in describing many films but there’s another level that Sion Sono is willing to show off in Love Exposure, his magnum opus. This four hour film from 2008 may very well be, “the most Japanese thing you’ll ever sit through”, but what exactly does that description mean? The cinema of Sion Sono will, if anything, baffle one's mind but then there comes a film like Love Exposure which carries only what anyone would desire most. A film of this sort is made from so many different ingredients that seemingly wouldn’t work together, yet it manages to be one of the most exhilirating experiences at the movies in a long time.
Our protagonist is a young Catholic boy named Yu, who prides living his life supposedly “sinless” to the point that his father believes he is lying. This is where the adventure begins, as from that point forward, Yu deliberately begins sinning in order to “confess” to his devout father: only fueling the many adventures that are set to come forth. The film starts to make its jabs about the world in which it is set in early on, by poking fun at religious fanaticism. There’s an extent one can go without sinning to the point it can drive one out of their mind, but it’s only one stage that describes where Love Exposure has found a sense of its significance. Sion Sono’s satire isn’t always subtle, but in the sort of world he creates it fits for the environment, because sanity isn’t something that would best represent a certain mentality that is being captured on the screen.
It’s amazing to think about how something like this could go on for around four hours long, but it doesn’t even feel near half as long as it really is. Rather instead, what happens is that the film’s length only builds up its world even more, in order to get a hand on where the quest brings our protagonist as he finds his sense of self-discovery. It became clear to me already why the film was given its title, “love exposure,” once the film introduced a secondary genre, that of the coming-of-age romance. Yu meets up with a pretty girl named Yoko, played by Hikari Mutsushima. Yoko is another soul who is just as deranged as Yu is, to the point that she's an outright misandrist while keeping her respect for her idol, Kurt Cobain. Yu’s supposed innocence came from an earlier stage of life within his own deliberate sinning, through perversions ranging from voyeurism or lust from upskirt photography.
Sono’s aesthetic resembles that of a B-movie, but the progressing change serves as a hint towards Yu’s growth, as he is “exposed” to what is supposedly an idea of love upon a sheltered perspective. On occasion, the film heads down an abundantly violent and gory path - at times gruesome but at other times drawing a good laugh from the viewer, as they watch everything come together. Some may already argue that it might be a perfect way to represent Japan’s culture (and in some respects, it does), but on another level it’s interesting to see how Sono uses it to add to his commentary. In some respects, he knows it’s what the viewers would want when all they see is the supposed ridiculousness of deliberate sinning, only for the sake of appeasing one’s own family through their religion, but it only comes to affect us when we realize how perverted/gruesome the scenario would be in reality. Sono never feels afraid to reach out inside of this manner, but soon it becomes easier to forget the film’s mammoth running time.
Deep down, Love Exposure is an innocent film that carries its distinctive appeal towards a more perverted, violent appearance amidst a bloated running time. Once you watch the film and look at the way to which it appears, not only does the length feel like half of what it truly is, the attention to Sono’s style is so all-out over something that could look so innocent. He revels in the sort of depravity that would have easily been running amidst the mind of a seemingly unremarkable teenager in order to give themselves a sense of freedom. This is apparent from showing how the sheltered Yu lives a supposedly “sin-free” life, only to discover a newer person arriving from a series of perversions that he commits in what he believes will appease his father in order to “confess.” It was clear to me from the moment where Yu finally finds a sense of sexual freedom from his first erection after Yoko’s skirt is blown up by the wind, highlighting how he has moved past one stage of his growth.
Love Exposure is, as I’ve stated above, the perfect way to define cinematic lunacy. But in its runtime, it carries so many imagined cinematic desires and gleefully exploits them to the fullest extent. It’s amazing to think how something that’s nearly half as ridiculously insane as this, deep down, feels self-aware that the story being told is actually a rather virtuous one at heart. All around it seems to be an exposé of an oppressed self at the control of the forces watching over, but as everything gets more perverse and violent, it all comes right out in the very best way possible. For as intimidating as the length may be, it deserves full attention all in one go: and it’s an even more rewarding experience. What would you ever expect from a four hour long film featuring genital gore, lust, Catholicism, and misandry among a few? Japan in a nutshell, perhaps? Pure irreverence all around, it’s glorious.