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With: Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima, Sakura Ando, Makiko Watanabe, Atsuro Watabe
Written by: Sion Sono
Directed by: Sion Sono
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 237
Date: 11/29/2008

Love Exposure (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Panty Aid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Japanese director and poet Sion Sono is perhaps best known here for Suicide Club (2001), though two of his more recent films, Love Exposure (2008) and Cold Fish (2010), have begun to make the rounds based on the reputation of that film. The latter is getting a DVD release, while Love Exposure sees a theatrical release this week in San Francisco, at the legendary Roxie Cinema. It's a good thing, too. The more you can let this amazing, unbelievable film overwhelm you, the better.

It's probably prudent to mention that the movie runs more than four hours, but that running time is crucial to establishing its unique rhythm; it plays like almost nothing else you've ever seen, and cutting it down to two hours would simply ruin the spell.

The hero is Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima), whose beloved mother dies when he's just a boy. His distraught father Tetsu Honda (Atsuro Watabe) becomes a Catholic priest, and Yu tries to live a good life. A crazy, sexy woman, Kaori (Makiko Watanabe), begins coming to the church and falls for Tetsu. After repeatedly trying, she eventually seduces him into an illicit affair, and when it ends, teenage Yu bears the brunt of his father's misery. He's forced to go to confession each day, and when Yu finds he has nothing to confess, he begins committing sins just for the privilege of confessing them.

The sin he becomes very good at is "upskirt photography," which is just what it sounds like: the stealthy art of snapping pictures of girls' underpants in public. At this point, Yu meets two women. Koike (Sakura Ando) at first appears to be some kind of kindred spirit, though she turns out to be one of the most sinister femmes fatale ever filmed. Then Yu meets the girl of his dreams, the pretty, tough Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima); he has been looking for her his whole life, based on his mother's description. Unfortunately, he meets her while he is dressed in drag (long story), and thus is set up a bizarre comedy of errors and mismatched romantic entanglements.

But before this can get worked out, Yoko, Kaori, and Tetsu become recruited by a new religious cult, The Zero Chuch, led by none other than Koike. Finally, in the last hour, it's up to Yu to rescue everyone and sweep his lady love off her feet. I apologize for the long plot synopsis, but believe me, there's more, and you won't hardly believe it unless you find yourself under this film's extraordinary enchantment.

Part of the movie's emotional fabric is that intense, overwhelming way that these teenagers throw themselves whole-heartedly into whatever they've stumbled into, just as the passionate, distraught teens in Suicide Club had no qualms about snuffing their lives. Yu is a full-fledged Catholic, then a full-fledged peek-a-panty photographer, and then a full-fledged lover in pursuit. There's no middle ground. When he is forced to shift from one to another, his heart breaks until he finds the resolve to jump, feet first, in the new direction.

This kind of tremendous, all-encompassing passion is usually only found in romance novels, and rarely plays well onscreen; critics and audiences usually resist it. But because of the equally monumental storytelling, the epic running time, and the pitch-perfect rhythm -- which renders the movie neither too fast nor too slow -- it all comes together in a way that is not only palatable, but perfectly natural. Sono's visual scheme is bright and sharp and quick, despite the obvious digital video look, with lots of space and color and movement to support the mood. Even the costumes and hairstyles are dramatic in the extreme.

Love Exposure will best be experienced in the dark of a theater, perhaps with someone who shares your innermost joys and passions. And it will be a day you won't soon forget.

Olive Films released an American DVD in late 2011 (no Blu-Ray). There are no extras. (Note: A Blu-ray followed in the fall of 2012, still with no extras. Since the film looks to have been shot on video, the high-def quality isn't all that exceptional. Still, any way you can see this extraordinary movie is good.)

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