Sion Sono, the man who made Hair Extensions and Suicide Club ups the ante with his 2010 effort Love Exposure, a ridiculously long four hour epic about the bizarre relationships that exist between a surprisingly small group of characters. The story centers around a young man named Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) who mother, a devout Catholic, told him to 'find Mary' while on her deathbed. After she passes, Yu's father, Tetsu (Atsuro Watabe), joins the seminary and becomes a priest and he takes to his new occupation like a fish to water until he has a run in with a strange woman named Kaori (Makiko Watanabe) which winds up having serious repercussions for the poor guy. Upset with the hand he's been dealt in life, Tetsu takes out his frustrations on Yu and takes his religious beliefs to a frightening extreme, coercing his son to confess to sins he hasn't even committed. Tetsu may be slightly off his rocker, but he's no fool and when he clues in to the fact that Yu is lying about his sins, he insists that his son actually go out and commit some sins worth confessing.
With this in mind, Yu winds up embarking on a career in panty-fetish photography, something he proves to be as apt at as his father was to the priesthood. When Yu meets Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima), however, he feels that he may have actually found the 'Mary' his mother told him to find. Despite the fact that he lost a bet and is in drag (dressed in the same garb Meiko Kaji made famous in the Female Convict Scorpion films!) when he first lays eyes on her, he falls head over heels and makes it known. Yoko, however, can only get into Yu when he's dressed as 'Miss Scorpion' - something which doesn't come naturally to him. Complicating matters further is the presence of Aya Koike (Sakura Ando) a strange and overtly religious woman who runs around with a canary and seems intent only on ruining anything good in Yu's life.
Despite the fact that the lives of the main characters in Love Exposure are all very much entwined with one another, the film almost feels like a series of separate movies joined together. Despite the overlap, Tetsu's story is not Yu's story and Yu's story is not Yoko's story - but somehow the director manages to make all of these pieces fit together and while, yes, obviously the end result is ridiculously long, the film manages to hold our attention throughout. That 'weird for the sake of weird' vibe that ran so prominently through quite a few of Sono's earlier pictures is still here but it isn't as strong, and it's to the film's benefit that this is the case. Never short on strange imagery, be it transplanting typical Catholic iconography into unusual settings or paying homage to the exploitation films of Japan's past, the movie is visually very strong. The slick camera work, interesting costumes, fetishistic moments involving Yu's photography career and deliberate use of bold color ensure that the film is always eye catching, candy for the eyes so to speak. Underneath all of this though is a very character driving storyline that concentrates more on getting us into the heads of the people who populate this odd landscape effectively than in dazzling us with snappy visuals.
Had the pacing been off on this one, it would have spelled certain death for a film only a few minutes under four hours in length. Thankfully, Sono's smart enough to ensure that enough keeps happening that we're in this one for the long haul. The more twisted side of the story helps this way (as the picture deals not only with death, loss, love and other typical emotional characteristics but also with rape, incest, cults and fetishism with an equal amount of focus) but there's enough cultural allegory and religious ponderings to provide an intelligent backbone to all of this - so if it's still 'weird for the sake of weird' at least this is a movie as likely to make you think about why it's showing you what it's showing you than to simply take comfort in shocking the audience. Throw in some interesting metaphors that seem to be poking holes in the sexist side of Japanese society and some rather barbed jabs at the dangers inherent in organized religion be it a form of Christianity or otherwise and you're left with plenty of food for thought, dealt out through a uniquely Japanese perspective and wrapped up in some great production value and solid performances. If that doesn't sell you on it, well, Love Exposure is also a remarkably gripping romantic drama on top of everything else.
Love Exposure looks pretty good here presented in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are nice and natural save for a few scenes that look to have been intentionally boosted a bit, while black levels are fine as well, even if some minor compression artifacts creep into the darker scenes. Skin tones look nice and natural and there are no edge enhancement issues. Detail is generally pretty solid though occasional softness creeps in from time to time, though this appears to stem back to the way that the film was shot rather than the transfer itself.
The sole audio option provided is a Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with forced English subtitles. The quality of the mix is fine, there are no problems with hiss or distortion to note and the levels are always properly balanced. Dialogue is clean and clear and channel separation up front is noticeable throughout the movie. The subtitles could have been a bit larger than they are without having effected the movie much but otherwise they too are fine.
The disc includes static menus and chapter stops but no actual extras of any kind, not even a trailer.
At just under four hours in length, Love Exposure can seem daunting, if not grueling but stick with it and you'll find that Sion Sono has crafted a film that's both interesting and engaging. Never short on weird, it's not going to be for everyone but those with an appreciation for the director's earlier films ought to give this one a look - it's an impressive effort on ever level. Olive Films' DVD is barebones, but it looks good and sounds good and comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.