Shion Sono’s Love Exposure (2008) is a unique cinematic experience which lingers long in the mind. With a running length of four hours this may sound like an exhausting endurance test, yet it is in fact a completely and utterly exhilarating watch on an epic scale that few films have dared to attempt.
To try and outline the myriad of narrative twists and turns of the film is unnecessary as at its centre this is a conventional love story, albeit with frequent and seemingly eccentric side steps into peek-a-panty photography, cross dressing karate fights, and penis-fixated teenage angst. Everything imaginable, and more than one or two things that defy imagination, are thrown into the mix, resulting in a generic and thematic cocktail which is nothing short of intoxicating.
Such a gaudy mix should feel messy, incoherent even, but Sono manages to blend the contradicting elements of the absurd and profound with an assured and masterful touch, a feat he has all too often failed to accomplish in some of his previous films. In Love Exposure, Sono offers up a deranged fantasy world, with an array of outlandish and perverse characters, and yet he has an equally deranged and outlandish proposition for the audience; believe in this world and feel for these people.
To suggest that the film is epic could be a little misleading; production values are modest, and the film has the look of a TV soap opera which has been edited together. Although this is not a criticism, to the credit of Sono and the outstanding cast (Hikari Mitsushima impresses) in spite of this look it never has the feel of throwaway TV pulp, for all of the melodramatic peaks and troughs, the overly sentimental cliff-hangers. Given the scope and range of Sono’s film there was the possibility the film could degenerate into a confusing mess of disparate narrative threads, or even worse, have the feel of a self-indulgent vanity project for Sono.
Sono’s 2008 magnum opus has been proclaimed by some critics as a masterpiece of contemporary Japanese cinema, but even this description sells the film short. Exhilarating and life-affirming, Love Exposure is masterpiece of contemporary cinema, full stop. Third Window offers up a bumper Blu-ray package, with an excellent transfer, and additional footage from the film if, after four hours, you are still left wanting more.