Friday, September 02, 2011

Sion Sono’s Love Exposure

Japanese Christians are a small but hardy band. Just as they endured centuries of shogunate oppression, they also survived Sion Sono’s epic, borderline sacrilegious cult thriller mash-up Love Exposure (trailer here), which opens today in New York in all its 237 minute glory.

Yû Honda’s mother was practically a saint, but her dying wish that her son find a wife like the Virgin Mary complicates his sexual development. His relationship with his father Tetsu is even more strained. Turning to the priesthood in his grief, the elder Honda first becomes a kindly reassuring priest. However a detour through temptation turns him into an abusive fire-and-brimstone moralizer. Yet, he eases up again when he picks up living in sin with aging party girl Kaori.

To get his father’s attention in the confessional, Honda begins a career of petty crime. However, he largely gives up the punk life when he falls for Yoko Ozawa, the attractive daughter of Kaori’s interim lover, whom Honda saves from a gang of street thugs on the one day he happened to be dressed in drag as a result of a lost wager. Unfortunately, Koike, a recruiter for the Zero Church cult, assumes the identity of his “Miss Scorpion” persona to seduce Ozawa, the love of his life who he is now supposed to consider his sister. End of first hour, maybe. From there, things get a little crazy.

While it has a boatload of sexualized religious imagery, Exposure is so wildly idiosyncratic, it defies any pat ideological label. Considering our protagonist is a budding panty-peaking pornographer, this film is definitely for adventurous audiences only. Yet, it is not as kneejerk anti-Catholic as it might sound, thanks to the acutely flawed but deeply human portrayal of Father Tetsu. Still, by the same token, several major characters turn out extremely screwed-up because of abuse suffered at the hands of ostensive Christians.

One thing is certain, by the time Exposure is over, you know you have seen a film. For four hours or so, Sion goes for broke, pulling it off more often than not. Indeed, it is rather amazing how outrageous Exposure gets without ever going irrevocably over the top. It is also a credit to the large ensemble cast, who sell the madness with deadly earnest. As Koike, the master manipulator, Sakura Andô is really scary and totally hot. Atsurô Watabe gets a real acting workout as Father Tetsu, whipsawing back and forth between psychotic and hen-pecked. Hikari Mitsushima turns the Japanese school girl stereotype on its head as the brawling man-hater Ozawa, while Takahiro Nichijima maintains a Candide-like sense of innocent confusion as poor passive perverted Honda.

Make no mistake, Exposure is not your father’s Japanese school girl fetish movie. Frankly, words fail to adequately describe it. Apart from the more hot button content, Sion’s depiction of the Zero cult’s inner workings are wholly sufficient to thoroughly creep viewers out. This is bold filmmaking, telling a fantastical narrative, chocked full of provocative material, at an absolute breakneck pace. Truly the work of an auteur, but not for the faint of heart, Exposure is strongly recommended to those who are not scared off by everything they just read. It opens today (9/2) in New York at the Cinema Village.