Love Exposure 愛のむきだし (2009)

Love Exposure

Sion Sono’s Love Exposure is a tale of lust, obsession and religious ferour which has a four hour running time but breezes by quite happily.

Yu (Nishijima) lives the life of a devout Christian. After his mother dies his father Tetsu (Watabe) becomes a priest but is soon seduced by an emotionally volatile woman named Kaori (Watanabe) who then proceeds to leave him. A heart-broken Tetsu begins to torment the spiritually and morally innocent Yu by forcing him to confess sins on a daily basis.  To appease his father Yu begins to sin on a daily basis and on the advice of delinquent friends he trains to become an expert in upskirt photography and becomes a master at getting panty shots. One day, while dressed as a girl, he witnesses a beautiful man-hating girl named Yoko (Mitsushima) get into a street brawl. He instantly falls in love with her and decides to intervene. Little does he know that a cult leader in the Zero Church named Aya (Ando) is manipulating them for her own purposes.

Aya Koike (Ando) and Her Gang in Love Exposure

Sion Sono has directed and written a story which is bursting with ideas and good humour. It is delivered in a non-linear manner from multiple viewpoints. Unlike Cold Fish there is no grit here and instead what we get is a bright and goofy story that satirises cults, high school romance, martial arts and ‘tosatsu’ – the art of taking pictures of girl’s underwear.

Yu (Nishijima) in Tosatsu Training in Love ExposureThe first two thirds of the film are the best with hilarious comedy where the unique cast of characters are introduced through amusing sequences, my favourites being the acrobatic martial arts panty-shot photo training and the gang initiation process that Yu undergoes. If the whole thing sounds like a horrible melange of ideas and an example of a director indulging himself then the final results will surprise because there is some bite and intelligence to various aspects of the film including the satirical look at catholic guilt and the comedic use of the way cults manipulate people’s thinking by keeping them busy with irrelevant tasks to stop them from thinking and using attractive members of the opposite sex to distract those whose faith is wavering.

Love Exposure does not aim for seriousness and just wants to celebrate love and finding one’s identity but even so when the film shifts gears into drama the breezy tone undercuts the emotional journeys of the characters and the drama on screen. But then if it concentrated on being serious it would stop being entertaining and those four hours would be dull. Thankfully the performances keep everything moving fast.

Pop star Takahiro Nishijima and rising star Hikari Mitsushima are able to do the physical comedy easily, their innocent and cute faces undergo all of the exaggerated expressions and they throw themselves into physical scenes with gusto. I have mentioned it once but I will mention it again, Yu’s aforementioned photo-training has to be watched because it is very funny. HikariYoko (Mitsushima) in Love Exposure in particular has earned much acclaim and she portrays Yoko as a totally cute man-hating badass who can hold her own in any fight. Watching her tear up the screen is wonderful. They battle bravely against the comedy to make the drama matter but it is hard not to laugh when the lead is in drag as Sasori Female Convict Scorpion.

Yu (Nishijima) and Friends in Love Exposure

The best performance comes from Sakura Ando who portrays the manipulative seductress Koike. She is a slippery chameleon who carries a green parakeet and masks the hatred and horror in her heart with a mask of control. Her tale is the most tragic and Ando is able to ride the transitions between seriousness and comedy better than her co-stars.

Aya Koike (Ando) in Love Exposure

The use of digital camera gives everything an immediacy and spark. The Tak Sakaguchi choreographed brawls are free-flowing, fast and furious, the comedy is amusing, and in the emotional scenes where the camera can get up close and personal you can see the tears streak down faces. Set design is always interesting with the Zero Church being a minimalist nightmare and the Tetsu’s sermons being bathed in white light or red depending on the his Tetsu’s moods.

Love Exposure will divide audiences because it is a daring film not least because of its long running time but also because it is a unique and individual ride which throws cinematic convention to the wind. I am tempted to call it a multi-strand masterpiece but there were moments when it could have been shortened. It is a minor quibble because with so many brilliantly crafted scenes and sequences, filled with so many characters, set-pieces and ideas and such a defiance for conventional cinematic rules that it will either frustrate or entertain. At no point was I bored and I loved the film.


Love Exposure   Love Exposure Film Poster

Japanese: 愛のむきだし

Romaji: Ai no Mukidashi

Release Date: 31st January 2009 (Japan)

Running Time: 237 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Starring: Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima, Sakura Ando, Atsuro Watabe, Makiko Watanabe, Mitsuro Fukikoshi

7 thoughts on “Love Exposure 愛のむきだし (2009)

  1. akb48fan

    It’s difficult to pick which Sion Sono movie is my favorite as all the ones I’ve watched so far are pretty good but I would probably have to say it’s this one. Considering it goes on for 4 hours, I was enjoying it so much the running time just flew by.

    1. Cold Fish is my favourite but I tend to get drawn to darker stories and Denden gives a brilliant performance because he is allowed to be absolutely berserk. That said, my favourite performance in a Sion Sono movie is Ren Osugi in Exte!

  2. Captain Banana

    Doubt we will ever get to see it but I would love to know what was cut out from the original 6 hour edit, if a 6 hour edit was released I’d watch it.

  3. Raku

    I would love to know what was removed from the original 6 hour run time, if a 6 hour cut was released I’d watch it……..but I doubt we’ll ever see it.

  4. When I read that Sono had cut down Love Exposure from six hours my mind boggled at what the extra two hours could have contained. As much as I like Sono’s works I think the four hour version is more than enough for me.

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