Love Exposure is a bizarre, hilarious, sexy, moving and epic four-hour movie from Japanese director Sion Sono. It centres on themes of religion, lust, family, perversion and the art of upskirt photography. It is easily the longest movie I have seen that I haven’t got slightly bored with, which is a testament to the downright weird but fascinating content on offer. The opening couple of hours set up the stories of the main protagonists. Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is the son of a Catholic priest. His father, Tetsu, has an affair with a woman after Yu’s mother has died. When she leaves him he is wracked with guilt about breaking the rules of the priesthood, and starts to force his son to confess sins. As Yu desperately tries to remember more and more minor sins, he realises that what he has to do is commit sins, so he can then recant to his father. This leads to him getting in with a gang and learning the art of ninja upskirt photography. The two other main characters are then introduced- Yu’s ‘Mary’, Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima), a girl who hates men (except Kurt Cobain), and weird cult member Aya Koike (brilliantly played by Sakura Ando) who follows events from afar with her mini-skirt clad assistants and a budgie. As Yu’s family are slowly drawn into the cult, and a weird love triangle, based on mistaken identity, develops, the tale becomes more and more engrossing.
I’ll stop with the plot there, as synopsis is pretty useless when a film runs to four hours, and is as bizarre as this. I was left wondering how on earth the director came up with the idea – turns out, some of it is based on real events. Love Exposure is low-budget, with ninja fighting in the streets of Tokyo(?), as well as comic turns by Takahiro Nishijima in particular, with his “alter ego” Sasori San. It is also a moving love story. It poses real questions about the role of religion and cults, the importance of family, and distinctions between ‘normality’ and ‘perversion’. It’s everything, all jumbled together into a manic piece of cinema. To repeat, its four hour length is not a burden – time flies by as you follow the intrigue on offer.
I’ll be watching it again for all its drama, heartbreak and humour, as more than anything, this is entertainment at is finest. I’m not sure if there’s a grand narrative to be had- maybe the love story emerges on top. But what makes this film brilliant is the bizarre mix of all genres – there’s low budget “Battle Royale” style blood-letting (including high school setting), a classical score that reminded me of Park Chan Wook’s recent vampire movie “Thirst”, comedy that could have been from a Japanese TV sketch, a moving love story – it really is bonkers, but great, great fun. ★★★★½