Wow. Some films try to cover a fair bit of ground. Love Exposure is more like some vast, country-spanning blanket. A four-hour movie both epic and perversely intimate, it takes on religion, sexual awakening, abuse, family, relationships…oh, and the art of kung fu upskirt photography.
The story follows Tokyo teenager Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) through a period of self-discovery in his life. His mother dies, and his Catholic priest father falls for a morally-dubious woman. Left feeling abandoned, Yu decides to sin just to have an excuse to see his father in the confessional.
The sinning quickly escalates as Yu shows a remarkable aptitude for the art of taking clandestine photographs up the skirts of young women in public places – with the aid of cameras on elastic bands, cameras on remote control cars and acrobatics. This proves too much for his father, who casts him out just as Yu has a passing encounter with the girl of his dreams, abuse-survivor Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima). The problem? Yu met her while dressed in drag and now is forced to pretend to be a woman in order to be close to her.
Amazingly, that synopsis is only the tip of the iceberg. But rather than become a mess, this instead is a delirious ride that manages to blend introspection with giddy entertainment.
Director Sono Shion is best known for Suicide Club (2001), a satiric swipe at youth culture in Japan. With Love Exposure he takes on a larger palette of more universal themes. Yu is lost without his parents and seeks somewhere – anywhere – to belong. Yet all he really wants is the reunification of family. His father is torn between the lure of sex and the tenets of his religious devotion. Yoko is driven by hatred, yet desperate for love. Above them all is the temptation of a religious cult, of a place where they can give up responsibility or choice…but is it true happiness or just delusion?
There are a lot of elements to juggle in the 237 minutes of running time and for the most part, Sono Shion does a remarkable job by keeping the focus tight and following Yu through an often bizarre series of events. Perhaps things become a bit muddy in the final act and some of the thematic issues raised to not get wrapped up perfectly, but that is only a minor quibble against such an enjoyable film.
A rare beast that manages to be layered and thought-provoking, more than anything Love Exposure is just a damn lot of fun.
Available on R4 DVD from Madman.