Love & Peace
ラブ＆ピース 「Rabu & Pisu」
Release Date: June 27th, 2015
Running Time: 117 mins.
Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay),
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Kumiko Aso, Tohiyuki Nishida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Eita Okuno, Makita Sports, Erina Mano, Megumi Kagurazaka, Miyuki Matsuda
Christmas movies range far and wide in terms of content from Heavenly interventions seen in Frank Capra’s classic It’s A Wonderful Life to the monstrous antics of the little green Gremlins seen in Joe Dante’s same-named film but these appear normal compared to Sion Sono‘s 2015 film Love & Peace which takes the seasonal setting and goes down a radically different path as he makes genre mash-up of a Christmas movie with a kaiju rock opera epic with a little help from Santa…
Ryoichi Suzuki (Hiroki Hasegawa) once dreamed of becoming a punk rock star but he gave up on his dreams and became a salaryman at a musical instrument parts company in Tokyo. Life is miserable because he is bullied by his colleagues and he has no friends but he has feelings for a timid office lady named Yuko Terashima (Kumiko Aso) whose kindness towards him keeps him from going insane. Alas, he can’t express his love for her. but fate soon strikes!
One day, Ryoichi meets a turtle on the rooftop of a department store which he adopts and names Pikadon and they become instant best friends but after a vicious instance of workplace bullying Ryoichi panics and flushes Pikadon down a toilet. It seems like he has hit rock bottom as he has betrayed his loyal pal but Pikadon, won’t forget his human owner even as he travels down into Tokyo’s sewers which is where he meets a mysterious old man (Toshiyuki Nishida) who has a workshop strewn with Christmas decorations and a collection of talking toys and magic candy and potions. Thanks to one candy in particular, Pikadon begins to make Ryoichi’s dreams come true and his friend becomes the lead singer of punk rock band Revolution Q. This is just the start of a weird adventure that will sweep Ryoichi and all of Tokyo along as Christmas approaches!
Taking the lead is Hiroki Hasegawa. Having previously worked with Sono as the mad cinephile in the yakuza movie comedy Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, he is a revelation here. His physical performance is impeccable as a cowardly and skittish man transforming into an arrogant pop star. His first incarnation is all tremulous body movements, hunched over in fear of getting hammered by humiliations and the desperation radiates off him. Sono’s direction highlights these emotions through editing and camerawork as we get POV shots and close-ups of him in tight spaces where the other actors are leaning in on him with mocking smiles and insults. We feel a sympathy for someone so ostracised and understand the depth of his loneliness which is how we come to yearn for him getting care and attention from Pikadon and Yuko Terahsima and understand why he becomes dependent on them for comfort.
Ryoichi’s rise to the top is then a familiar tale of a man selling out and it’s easy to understand as Sono uses concise sequences of musical fame where his songs go from humiliating busking session to becoming viral hits bankrolled by a record label who parachute professionals to clean him up and shower him with money to ensure his rise to the top.
During this time we see his music get more professional and the videos flashier and Hasegawa loses that hunched look to straighten up and become more expressive. Instead of hiding himself, he stands centre stage strumming a guitar and singing genuinely catchy songs as he turns into Wild Ryo, a man who can fill stadiums and then a pretentious and cruel pop star who breathlessly brags about his skill. Ironically, at the height of his fame, as he is about to cast off his precious friends and becomes a monstrous egomaniac, he makes the song Kizuna 絆 (connection). It is only when Pikadon achieves a monstrous size himself and threatens all of Tokyo that Ryoichi comes back down to earth.
The early parts of the script are full of foreshadowing as plot points and lyrics of the songs that Ryoichi creates. It creates a nice road map as viewers will see every idea from the opening echoed throughout the film until the end credits in a brilliantly written script that culminates on Christmas as Pikadon makes Ryoichi’s stadium-sized dreams come true.
Pikadon starts out as a normal turtle that Ryoichi carries in his pocket but by the end the creature reaches an epic size after a sparkly adventure with the other toys and animals owned by the old man who is clearly Santa.
In these sequences, bright colours and decorations light up the screen in glorious reds and greens and yellows and we are in an alternate world of playtime with these toys and creatures who run riot but there is also a melancholy note because they have been discarded. Pikadon’s adventures with the old man and his toys offer a commentary on how society is built on disposable happiness and the value of loyalty pales in comparison to ephemeral satisfaction that money and new items bring, reflecting the changes in Ryoichi’s character. The toys long for their human owners despite being mistreated. Interestingly Ryoichi is still massively unhappy despite fame and fortune clouding his view and we know it’s because his eagerness for fame and fortune has blinded him to the real treasures in life: love and friendship. It’s Oliver Twist levels of pathos at times and it takes Pikadon being in peril to awaken that realisation in the rocker.
Sono keeps the politics flowing through the background of the film as he criticises the lack of political and historical awareness in a younger media-fed generation who don’t know anything about the atomic bombings of Japan and takes aim at an entertainment industry that creates blind followers. This is something similar to his film Suicide Club (2002) only less bloody and less reliant on metaphors and symbolism.
These themes are mixed with a typical tale of one man’s corruption by fame but what saves Ryoichi and gives the film so much heart is the loyalty and love of those closest to him leaving the film in Pikadon and Yuko’s hands to deliver a one-two punch of sentimentality and monster movie action capped off by hope at the end that had me crying. Kumiko Aso, the lady running around in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s horror film Pulse is a solid anchor and helps the film, along with Ryoichi and Pikadon’s friendship, to elevate itself to pure tear-fuel.
Christmas truly is a time for love and togetherness. I hope everyone takes care of each other and things get better around the world.