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May 24, 2011

Love Exposure

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Ai no mukidashi
Sion Sono - 2009
Third Window Film Region 2 DVD

I took off a past weekend based on the assumption that the Denver Film Society was going to present another four days of Japanese films, something they did in April of last year. As it turned out, that didn't happen. I took the time off from work anyways, and took advantage of seeing a couple of DVDs of Japanese films in my pile that I hadn't gotten around to watching yet. One of the films was The Incident by Yoshitaro Nomura. It didn't help that the Panorama DVD was an academy ratio version of a wide screen film. With a screenplay by Kaneto Shindo, and Nomura's usual go to guy, Tetsuro Tamba, as the star, I didn't think I would find this film difficult to watch. The Japanese Academy also loved this film, but with Nomura competing against himself, I prefer his other film, The Demon. Better still are Castle of Sand and Zero Focus. It literally took me hours, starting and stopping, to get through this courtroom mystery that has bits of Roshomon and 12 Angry Men.

On the other hand, I had no such problem watching all four hours of Love Exposure. What it's really about, I'm not sure of, though. The main themes are of Catholic guilt, the fetish for upskirt photos, and the mythology of Meiko Kaji. I've never been Catholic, or even Christian, and while I can understand the appeal, I've only seen a couple of DVDs just to get acquainted with a certain segment of current Japanese cinema. I am more comfortable talking about Meiko Kaji, having seen several films from the 70s that she starred in, and having a frame of reference when a couple of the characters pose as "Miss Scorpion".

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The film is about people looking to be rescued, whether by "Miss Scorpion" or Jesus. It is also about the lengths people will go to to find affirmation in their lives. As a young boy, Yu promises his dying mother that he will marry a women who is like the Virgin Mary. Yu's father takes his own devout faith further as a widower by becoming a priest. Yu wants a father rather than a Father. To get the attention of the man with the commingled roles, Yu devotes himself to sin. Petty acts of ignorance and insult escalate when Yu meets some high school friends mostly interested in shoplifting and getting into fights. Getting involved in upskirt photography, Yu becomes a master in combining ninja moves with a stealth camera.

Observed praying outside his father's church in the rain, Yu gets the attention of Koike, a recruiter from a questionable cult called the Zero Church. Through a combination of events, Yu goes out in public, dressed as Maiko Kaji's iconic character, and helps Yoko, whom he sees as the girl of his dreams, in a fight against a very large gang of thugs. Yoko falls in love with "Miss Scorpion", but would rather have nothing to do with Yu, who in a turn of events, is both a student at the same high school, and a brother through marriage.

What I think Sono is mainly interested in is systems of belief, especially those imposed institutionally, whether through religious organizations, schools, families or medical authorities. It is also quite possible that anyone viewing the film will have their own interpretation of events and Sono's message. The main characters teeter between behaving as they choose to behave, and in ways to fulfill the expectations of others. Where Sono is clearly critical is with the Zero Church, being more of a criminal enterprise rather than an organization based on any doctrine. Sono deliberately has it both ways, calling his young photographers perverts, and playing up the more voyeuristic aspects so that the audience sees lots of shots of lots of panties. Mostly, Love Exposure is about people finding themselves and each other, and learning to accept their strengths and follies.

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Posted by peter at May 24, 2011 09:17 AM