Sion Sono, Coast to Coast

The four-hour whatsit _Love Exposure_ reappears in New York and San Francisco.
David Hudson

Sion Sono, whose Himizu sees its world premiere in Venice next week before screening in Toronto, wasn't much known outside of Japan "until 2002's Suicide Club, which famously opened with a chorus line of angelic schoolgirls cheerfully leaping into the path of a subway train," writes Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Since then he's made the first of two projected Suicide sequels, the surreal psychosexual nightmare Strange Circus (2005), and deadly-'do J-horror exercise Exte: Hair Extensions (2007), to name a few. Though not in the Miike league of complete unpredictability (let alone productivity), Sono's films have been a diverse lot, not excluding an exercise or two in straight-ahead naturalism. The mega-dose of Sono that the Roxie offers this month, however, feels like two very large pieces cut from the same pie. Opening Friday is 2008's Love Exposure, clocking just under four hours (not counting intermission); next up is 2010's Cold Fish (starting Sept. 16), a comparatively succinct sit at 144 minutes. Such lengths might normally suggest epic longeurs and a meditative pace. Sono, however, fills each canvas to bursting with demented narrative turns, frantic activity, extreme emotions, and absurdist logic. Not to mention sizable quantities of over-the-top violence and warped sexuality."

Olive Films is bringing Love Exposure to New York and, for Jeannette Catsoulis, writing in the Times, this "teenage romance of Yu (Takahiro Nishijima) and Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) is an unexpectedly involving and relentlessly entertaining collision of contradictions. He is a tormented Christian with a talent for snapping candid shots of the skivvies of unsuspecting ladies. She is a man-hating hottie who is drawn to her true love only when he's in drag."

"Love Exposure is, in a sense, Sono's equivalent of the Great Russian novel," suggests Simon Abrams in Slant. "In it, his substantial disaffection for societal conventions is matched only by his monumental love for his spectacularly messed-up protagonists. These characters become deranged because they have to create their own belief system. There's no God except for the ones that Yôko, Aya Koike (Sakura Andô), and Yû Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) make for themselves. God is represented by mundane authority figures, people who simultaneously project their own fear of loving someone else and lustful need to be loved. In other words, father/Father figures are all rotten to the core in Love Exposure, though they're all rotten in unique ways."

It's an "overstuffed J-pop soap opera," writes Time Out New York's David Fear, "which at its best works as a tribute to emotionally damaged misfits, and at its worst feels like a metabolic mash-up of hentai detritus. Anyone who's followed the director's career since the eerie-satirical Suicide Club (2001) has seen him tackle these subjects before with wildly varying degrees of success, and Love Exposure plays like a marathon greatest-hits-and-misses mixtape. If you see only one Sono film, check out this flick; you will have then seen them all."

"Love Exposure seems hell-bent on being difficult," finds Pedro Fernández at Ioncinema, whereas, for IFC's Matt Singer, it's "wonderfully eclectic cinema." For Gabe Toro at the Playlist, it "seems more concerned with torturing our characters than it is with allowing their exposure. But what exhilarating torture it is."

 


Earlier: In 2009, Joe Bowman and Andrew Grant discussed Love Exposure and Nick Palevsky outlined what it is he likes about it.

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