Thursday, April 9, 2009

HKIFF Film review 影評: Love Exposure 愛之剝脫

Original Japanese title: 愛のむきだし
Director: Sono Sion 園子溫
Cast: Nishijima Taahiro 西島隆弘, Mitsushima Hikari 満島ひかり, Ando Sakura 安藤サクラ, Atsuro Watabe 渡部篤郎, Watanabe Makiko 渡辺真起子
Length: 237 mins

Sono Sion's Love Exposure has all the hallmarks of a great cult film. It's brave and ambitious (it's nearly 4 hours long), has copious amounts of sex and bloody violence, and picks its satiric targets wisely. It even references another cult flick (the Female Convict Scorpion series). While some may feel it's bloated, the film has enough creative energy to sustain your attention for the most part.

Yu Honda's (Nishijima Taahiro) father Tetsu (Atsuro Watabe) becomes a kindly Catholic priest, several years after his wife's death. Tetsu's personality changes abruptly after his brief romance with wild Kaori (Watanabe Makiko). Obsessed with sin, Tetsu forces Yu to confess to him everyday. Sensing his father's nonchalance towards his minor sins, Yu meets a 'master of the obscene' and picks up the art of upskirt photography, all to get closer to his father. Obtaining no sexual arousal from such 'perversion', Yu recalls his late mother's wishes that he finds 'his own Virgin Mary'. Soon, his goddess arrives in the form of men-hating Yoko (Mitsushima Hikari). Meanwhile, Aya Koike (Ando Sakura), a sinister figure of the local cult Zero Church (more like a Christian sect than an Aum Shinrikyo 真理教 clone), is spying on all of them...

Love Exposure provides plenty of guilty pleasures, regardless of whether it's deliberately satirical or simply indulgent. The barrage of panty photos may be shocking at first, but Yu's kung fu panty photo skills transforms it into a hilarious (if a bit repetitive) joke. Then there's the continual presence of the penis, the porno aesthetics, and the surreal religious imagery that leaves a good deal to gaze/flinch at. Most impressive is Ando Sakura's take as a demented villain, something I didn't expect watching her in Torso 性軀幹.

Sono has dabbled into serious issues before (e.g. suicide in Suicide Circle and Noriko's Dinner Table 紀子之食桌) with mixed results. I certainly didn't expect him to produce something didactic this time around, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of themes touched and ridiculed here. The obvious targets of religious fanaticism and puritanism are present, but it's the intersection of love, sex and religious morality that forms the core of the film. The religious dedication to the idea of love coinciding with activities considered outside of sexual norms is refreshingly rebellious.

However, the mediocre image quality inhibits the potential flair of certain scenes- the hazy yellow does spoil our visual appetite. Is Love Exposure a deliberate experiment in digital video (in which case, it fails), or was it originally intended to be a straight-to-video low budget release (hard to believe since Sono's films have done well in the box office)?

Furthermore, the film feels like a stretch in the final hour, not only because of the sudden change of pace (one recital of Corinthians 13 is necessary, two isn't) but also the rather insubstantial and predictable conclusion. It seems that Sono had run out of ideas to fool with, or simply needed to close the film. Sono originally came up with a 6 hour cut- one wonders how many more (interesting) things does he have to say. (Cue the inevitable 'original director's cut' DVD?)

Nevertheless, Love Exposure is an enjoyable, if overlong, ride worth savouring. You certainly won't find this gleeful, politically incorrect mishmash in mainstream cinema.

Love Exposure is showing in the HKIFF.


  1. it seems to me sono-san is recycling the theme of "finding substitute for broken family relations" here as in his previous "noriko's dinner table"~ the climax scene that shows the priest family and the cult sect girl happily having shabu-shabu together is almost the same as the ending of "noriko's"~

    sono-san seems to suggest (at greaaat length) that nowadays the traditional family and familial bonds are so broken that people try to compensate by different kinds of self-deception, substitute family in "noriko's", imagination and projection in "strange circus", religion and sex perversions in "love exposure"~

    the plot of the whole film, when you think of it, is really kinda stupid~ but then there is enough geeky, horny, bloody elements added in it to make this 4-hour film bearable, and even funny sometimes~

    my problem with sono-san is that he always overstates his ideas and won't stop until his film looks overblown and silly~ and that he tries to attract people's attention by sex + violence is also quite lowly...

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