Ai no Mukidashi / 愛のむきだし / Love Exposure
Introducing his 4 hour opus at its world premier at Tokyo Filmex last November, director Sono Sion assured the audience it would “be over in flash.” He was right. His new provocation, Love Exposure (Ai no Mukidashi) assuredly touched as many flashpoint bases as he could throw in and left the audience wanting more. Sion, whose roots and avant-garde poetry and experimental film blasted into the mainstream with his 2002 Suicide Club (Jisatsu Sakuru) and has kept fans on edge eagerly awaiting every new film – and Love Exposure is sure to please in its over-the-top shaggy doggedness, touching on a profusion of cultural markers.
The motivating plot device – a youth forced to confess sins to his troubled father/ priest becomes a master ninja upskirt photographer to fulfill his filial obligation and find his own Mary – is a Bunuelian transgression good enough to make a devout catholic squirm. His journey leads him through a landscape of teenage lust and delinquency, cross-dressing confusion and unrequited love, conspiracies and cult religion, the porn industry and more, to a Columbine-like denouement. A somewhat unsatisfying coda brings together all the loose ends of an otherwise amazing series of images and ideas of this darkly funny and disturbing film. But I’m not complaining. The ride is well worth it.
The great cast is headed by Nishijima Takahiro, vocalist for the pop group AAA, who convincingly plays twisted naivete through the main character, Yu, in his quest for “sin” and ultimately the woman of his desire. As Yoko, the young woman who plays a little more than hard-to-get, Hikari Mitsushima, shines in her high school disdain of Yu’s affection.
Nearly stealing the show, though, is Ando Sakura as Koike, the villainess who manipulates the guileless Yoko into falling for her – yep, there’s even a bit of soft lesbo action – in her plot to rupture Yu’s family and bring them into her evil religious cult. She pulls a warped and complex edge out of what is on the surface a cartoonishly evil character – and never lets up. Rounding out the cast are the adults, Atsuro Watabe as Yu’s mixed up father and the delightful Makiko Watanabe as Kaori, the woman who disrupts Yu’s family when she forces herself on his father (and adds still a few more plot twists). She’s simultaneously completely overbearing and understandably desirable.
Sion’s rarely falters with his barrage of images, sounds and ideas. He works big, even scoring sequences to Ravel’s Bolero – and pulling it off! A favorite device of his is a chapter driven narrative. Early sections of the film flesh out each character’s backstory, lending different viewpoints to the whole of this picaresque adventure. By the time it all comes together, the twists and turns have plenty of background and depth. He takes big cultural signifiers and couples them with a sharp sensibility to the nuances of teenage relationships. Anarchic sensibilities and a hilarious and incisive rigor come together magnificently in Sion’s new film.
Originally published in Japanzine, December 2008