Friday, November 06, 2015

SDAFF ’15: Love & Peace

It is sort of like Gamera meets the Island of Misfit Toys. It is also a Christmas movie, because why wouldn’t it be? Pet turtles go kaiju in Love & Peace (trailer here), the glam-rock fable only Sion Sono could tell, which screens during the 2015 San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Ryoichi Suzuki once harbored punk rock dreams, but now he is a bullied salaryman with a balky intestinal track, laboring for a decidedly unhip music publisher. For some reason, his severely outsiderish co-worker Yuko Terashima might kind of like him, but Suzuki is incapable of acting on his massive crush. The only bright spot in his life is Pikadon, the baby turtle he co-dependently dotes on. However, when Suzuki’s nasty coworkers shame him into giving Pikadon the flush, it nearly crushes his spirit.

Down Pikadon goes, swooshing through the sewers to a subterranean shelter for cast-off pets and toys. There he enjoys the protection of a kindly tinkerer, who fixes them up and gives them the power of speech through his magic pills. However, the old man (gee, who does he sound like?), accidently gives him the wrong Matrix pill. Instead of the power of speech, Pikadon is now able to grant his former owner’s wishes, but each time he grows in proportion to the significance of the wish fulfilled. From there, things gets strange—and big.

L&P is sort of the Christmas movie David Bowie never made with Sid and Marty Krofft. It is a strangely earnest and innocent film, yet Sono still manages to make redemption slightly creepy. Be that as it may, if you like turtles, this is the film for you.

In fact, the old school practical Pikadon effects are wonderfully charming and nostalgic. Kumiko Asȏ is also impressively subtle and down to earth as Terashima, sort of like a post-punk version of Marcie in Peanuts. Toshiyuki Nishida similarly balances kindliness and anti-social weirdness quite adeptly as the old man. However, there is over-the-top and there is Hiroki Hasegawa’s Suzuki, or “Wild Ryo,” as he comes to be known, who is equally annoying during his put-upon doormat days as he is as an egotistical sell-out rocker.

Regardless, you come to a Sion Sono film for some spectacle and he delivers accordingly. Although they are radically different films, L&P is much like Tokyo Tribe in that both are dazzlingly accomplished feats of art direction. Mise-en-scéne doesn’t get much more insane than his recent films. He certainly isn’t repeating himself either. Sono even proves he is quite the songwriter, penning tunes that are equally catchy performed as grungy protest anthems or cheesy power ballads. For Sono’s fans it is his latest must-see film, while for general cult film enthusiasts, it could become a Christmas tradition, along with Santa Stinks and Black Christmas. Recommended for kaiju connoisseurs as well, Love & Peace screens this coming Monday (11/11) and Wednesday (11/11), as part of this year’s SDAFF.