LOVE EXPOSURE | FILM REVIEW
Updated: Aug 17, 2021
A 4-hour display of Japanese quirkiness spouting from every orifice!
Director: Sion Sono
Cast: Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima, Sakura Andô, Makiko Watanabe, Atsuro Watabe
Related films: Suicide Club, Noriko’s Dinner Table, Guilty of Romance
Introduction to Debauchery
Love Exposure was perhaps the most ambitious Japanese film to be made in the 2000s. It is a four-hour dramedy with a theme of up-skirt photography, religious undertones, social commentary and quirkiness spouting from its every orifice.
The story is profoundly deep, and the execution is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The countless bizarre and slightly perverted situations constantly balance on the edge of the ridiculous, but somehow the focus is always directed back at the main story.
In short, Love Exposure has got it all: A gripping love triangle, family tragedy, erotic voyeurism, catholic abuse, teenage angst and brainwashed cult members. It is no wonder the film made waves at film festivals around the world.
Love Exposure Facts & Reception
Love Exposure was written and directed by Sion Sono. It was released in Japan in 2008, and stars Takahiro Nishijima, who won the prize for best new actor for his role at the prestigious Kinema Junpo Awards. Love Exposure was also awarded The Caligari Film Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
It is rumored that Love Exposure is based on a true story. When asked about this in an 2009 interview at The Brooklyn Rail, Sono replied: «It’s 10% true and 90% lies ... I have a friend who is a professional voyeur photographer ... and he had a little sister who fell into the clutches of a cultish religion.» The rest, he said, was cut and pasted from his own crazy life experiences.
«In Japan I hate Yasujirô Ozu. Everyone likes him … because Ozu’s
a god of Japanese movies. The Anti-god. The Antichrist.»
Sion Sono - 3:AM Magazine
In another interview, Sono described Love Exposure as a counteraction to traditional Japanese family drama films. Modern families are not peaceful, he said, they are broken. But all films he saw in Japan were reflections of Ozu, they showcased perfect nuclear families.
Like Sono described it, all he saw were Japanese films about couples, marriage, family ties, family relations and how peaceful and lovely it all was. It didn't reflect any kind of reality he saw around himself in Japan. So, he made Noriko's Dinner Table and Love Exposure to show another side of the Japanese family.
Yu is the first and foremost protagonist in Love Exposure. He is a typical androgynous Japanese teenage boy. Incidentally, he comes from a devout Christian home, which is not unheard-of in Japan, but nevertheless somewhat peculiar.
Being forced by his lovesick father — who is also a priest — to give confession on a daily basis, Yu develops a pathological fetish for sin. And his «original sin» of choice is up-skirt photography.
His mother died when he was just a young boy, leaving him nothing but a tiny Maria statue. This leads Yu to search for his one perfect woman. Once he snaps the perfect panty-shot, he’ll know the girl whose panties they belong to will be his mate for life, his Maria.
Meanwhile, the second and third protagonists in Love Exposure are Yoko and Koike. Yoko is a man-hating young woman who catches Yu’s eye. Koike is a devout cult member that plots to turn Yu, Yoko and their entire families into brainwashed imbeciles.
Then there is Yu’s father and step mother, Yu’s hoodlum panty-shot friends, the porn studio executives, the countless cult members, the nurses at the psych ward and the crazed panty-photography Sensei, all of which makes up the magnificent canvas that is Love Exposure.
So, how does Sono manage to keep this interesting for four hours? By mixing serious issues and drama with the bizarre and ridiculous in brilliant manner.
Between the Panty Lines
The story touches upon heated topics such as child abuse and religious fanaticism. In particular, the cult aspect is controversial, as Japan has had its fair share of cult movements and devastating incidents. Most known is the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in 1995.
Living in Japan, I encounter cult activity on a fairly regular basis, be it tiny underground movements or huge buddhist and christian sects. Nationally promoted religion was abolished in Japan after WWII, but the resulting freedom to participate in whatever religious grouping you might feel like, seems an equally troubling effect.
But this is just part of the bigger picture in Love Exposure. As we heard from Sono above, the main issue at hand are the broken families in Japan. Not just religious fanaticism, or perverted hobby photographers. It is love-suicides, rising child abuse statistics, hikikomori increase (acute social withdrawal), gender inequality and everything in between the cracks of Japanese society.
Love Exposure handles these issues masterfully by defusing the controversy with comedy. As such, Sono allows himself to dive deeper into the mentality of the cult than most filmmakers have dared before him. Every aspect is handled by the means of allegory, analogy and parody, but between the lines there are frightfully serious connotations to consider.
Producing Love Exposure
As for the entertainment value, the first-hour buildup of the film is nothing short of phenomenal. Yu’s character development is as gripping as it is cleverly executed. The momentum of the narrative is well-maintained for the remaining three hours as well, but the first hour outshines the rest.
When it comes to acting performances, the three teenage protagonists are all perfectly cast. The teenage angst and emotions could not have been better portrayed.
The cinematography as a whole appears a bit hurried, though. Some will probably argue that this is how Love Exposure was meant be, with a certain touch of grind house antics to it, but that is no excuse for sloppy handiwork.
Take a look at Quentin Tarantino’s films, and you'll never find any signs of mediocrity, even when the cinematography gets sloppy on purpose. This is not the case with Love Exposure. At times the odd camera angles fail to convey the narrative in the best way possible, especially in high paced action sequences.
The fighting choreography could have been a lot better. Sometimes the action is just too far out and beyond the laws of physics to do the story any favors. Yes, this is a bizarre comedy of sorts, but it still has to adhere to the confines of the film’s established universe.
Exposed plot holes
Finally, there are quite a few plot holes that make Love Exposure slightly miss the bulls-eye. (Spoiler alert!) For one, Yu could have easily avoided the entire situation with the cult by making a few tactical phone calls at the right moments. He realizes this later on, but his dawning realization is just so annoyingly slow that you can't help feeling that he somehow deserved what he got.
It is equally annoying when he decides to reveal his true identity, instead of exposing Koike for the fraud that she is. If he had kept this information hidden a little longer, Yoko would have denounced Koike and probably beat the s**t out of her too … (Spoiler end)
The last line of speculation is wishful thinking of course. Safe to say, Yu had much of his unfortunate happenings coming to him, being that he proves to have most of his brain cells stored below the belt.
(The remarks in the last paragraphs are tiny specs of critique in the grander scheme of things though, which is why the verdict went from four to five on the dice when re-watching the film for the second and third time.)
Final verdict of Love Exposure
Love Exposure has so much going for it that slight annoyances are easily forgotten. Anyone interested in Japanese cinema owe it to themselves to check out Sion Sono's display of inhibited cinematic creativity.
The storytelling possesses an unholy charm that can only be provided by Sion Sono. Sloppy and hurried cinematography aside, it will certainly stand the test of time. Check out Love Exposure today. Chances are you’ll have an experience that will not be forgotten … Ever!
3:AM Magazine: Channeling Chaos – An Interview with Sion Sono
The Brooklyn Rail: 10% True, 90% Lies: SION SONO with David Wilentz
Filmed in Ether: Love & Perversion: Sion Sono's «Hate» Trilogy
The Japan Times: Telling a lengthy tale of lust and religion
Screen Anarchy: Love Exposure: Another Take
A big thanks to Third Window Films for providing all the awesome images for this article. Head on over to their site to grab your very own copy of Love Exposure today.