"Let's commit lots of sins!"
Release: 2009-01-31 (Japan wide)
Director: Sion Sono
Original title: Ai no mukidashi (愛のむきだし)
MPAA rating: Not rated but I'd expect it to be R
Cast: Takahiro Nishijima (Yu Honda), Hikari Mitsushima (Yoko Ozawa), Sakura Ando (Aya Koike), Atsuro Watabe (Tetsu Honda), Makiko Watanabe (Kaori Fujiwara)
Live-action Christian hentai!
Three motherless young people are brought together by their circumstances. Yu is the son of a widower who became a Catholic priest. His prized possession is a statuette of the Virgin Mary, which came with a mandate from his dying mother to "find his own Maria" and introduce them. Yoko ran away with her violent playboy father's ex-girlfriend. Her favourite hobby is beating up men. Aya is an orphan psycho killer who works for a cult. She has a thing for Real Sinners and carries a budgie around in true pet-loving supervillain style.
Yu's father strikes up an illicit affair with emotionally unstable parishioner Kaori. When she dumps him he goes all weird on his son and demands confessions—lots of confessions. And when Yu runs out of little sins to confess to, he starts making them up. Eventually he figures out that he needs some Real Sins to make his father/Father happy and falls in with the wrong crowd—which is entirely the right crowd for his purposes.
Yu's talent is recognised and he undergoes rigorous training in a sort of Xiaolin temple for perverts. He is there to learn the art of tosatsu, sometimes less accurately known as panchira—or, as we would call it in the USA, a crime in most states and on the federal level. His literally religious devotion to the art of upskirt photography leads him to rapidly acquire enough hentai-fu to become a teacher in his own right.
Aya is the leader of a group of girls who catch Yu in the act but she lets him go. Even more than an appetite for destruction, she has an appetite for sinners and thinks she's hit the jackpot. From that point on she is never far from where he is, engaging in some highly questionable activities of her own and combining this pleasure with her business working for a religious cult.
Yoko is the last to show up on the scene. Yu encounters her while fulfilling the cross-dressing obligations that resulted from losing a photography bet. He helps this violent, man-hating ninja girl beat up a gang of assailants who are working for Aya and you can see where this is leading. If you think that these are spoilers, by the way, all this happens in the first quarter or so of the film.
"Anything you seek can be found here, in the groin."
Is this as bad as it sounds?
Watch this film and bask in glorious, glorious perversion. From the half-hour mark on you rarely get five minutes without someone calling themselves or someone else hentai. While the film is full of Jesus and pretty girls in short skirts, the lasting message is less that love conquers all and more an inconclusive argument between Jesus and Saul of Tarsus, who could never quite agree on whether perverts are people, too. The protagonists' path to deviance is presented in a rather Freudian sense: It's a result of old-school, Old-Testament sex, death, violence, incest, and general religious batshittery. But, just like Jesus came to deliver us from Jewish dietary law, all the story's answers are found in the New Testament and redemption is sought in the recitation of 1 Corinthians 13, a poetic chapter that even the most soulless of atheists and the Japanese can appreciate.
As a weirdo minority religion Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, is skewered over its uptight sense of morals and its liberal application of the "sin" label. Yu's path is determined by a revelation from his idiot friends in the sense of "you know, this would get a Christian priest really going, hur-hur-hur." And if Jesus could treat sinners as his equals, well, why not declare the suffering of a sinner at the hands of society as being equal to His? It's been done before, though perhaps not with this sort of straight-faced, child-like logic. The viewer must lament the hypocrisy that lies in the fact that, amid all the murder and mayhem and interpersonal violence, the only acts of perversion that raise as much as an eyebrow are the sexual kind. Horrific, deplorable violence is OK, as long as you're not a sexual deviant.
The film's director has gone on the record as saying that he thinks he would join a Jesus fan club because Jesus is a pretty cool dude but, as many of us will agree, the guy's followers are distinctly weird. So he invents a rival club called the Zero Church, which exhibits the same zeal as Catholicism for pwning its followers' souls and lives. Kind of the sort of thing that Yoko was accused of doing to John, as if he were incapable of discovering whacked-out oriental philosophy by himself. Except here the "exotic" element is whacked-out occidental philosophy. Neither John nor Yoko feature in the film, mind you, though Chrissie Hynde and Kurt Cobain do.
Having mentioned the late John, this whole trip is every bit as screwed up as The Holy Mountain, which he sank money into that he never saw again. Except it's not on drugs, is not seeking immortality, and most of the characters bathe. The script is the product of Tom Robbins's and Saint Augustine's secret life as anime writers. It has more trips through sin and its consequences than Dante and Larry Niven put together, ending (not starting!) in Plato's cave. Still, much of the perverse sinning actually serves a purpose and has some logic to it. The wantonness is found in the relationships between the characters. True immorality lies in the way in which we treat each other.
Just so you know, this is LONG
This film is four hours long. In the future a director's cut may be much longer. Apparently the six-hour version freaked out the producers, who had to consider marketing and showtimes, and the two-hour version greatly displeased the director. Despite being longer than Ben Hur, though, Love Exposure has none of the grave self-importance of, say, a Bergman and feels no need to define itself as an epic. It is entirely genuine, completely off its rocker, and tries to tell its story in as many frames as you'll let it get away with.
Love Exposure is an opus (probably the only label you can give to something that lasts four hours) destined for the cult classic midnight show circuit. I've seen it described elsewhere as a melodrama, a caper, and a romantic comedy. These are all true, as is everything else that anyone might say about this film. It makes no effort to define or defend itself.
Should you watch it
Sweet Jesus, yes! You will never find a better four-hour long transvestite ninja adventure through unrequited love, monotheism, and stealth photography. Break out your biggest tub of popcorn and get in the mood for a film that goes from knee-slapper to love story to family drama to kung fu to freakshow and back in minutes. I promise that you will cheer every time the hero gets a boner in a dress. Love Exposure is one of the finest immorality plays you'll ever watch.
Many people's mileage will vary but, concluding, I think I have no choice but to let this film get away with its inconsistencies and little plot holes and rate it for sheer entertainment value:
Film critic style rating: * * * * * (5/5)
"Could you please get off me?"