Mysteries of Love: Love Exposure
Ryan Allen continues our Valentine’s feature with a look at Sion Sono’s unorthodox love epic.
There’s a scene in Love Exposure, the 2008 romance action comedy thriller art film directed by weird-as-hell Japanese auteur Sion Sono, in which the main character, Yū, gets an erection. In fact, there are multiple times in the film in which that happens, but in this scene, he’s dressed like a girl. He’s surrounded by street thugs, and he’s ready to keep fighting, but when he sees this girl fighting alongside him, he falls instantly in love. And he gets an erection. This scene takes place one hour into the film.
That scene is the start of what is perhaps the most epic romance story of all time to ever be placed into a single film. Considering the four-hour runtime, it’s definitely one of the longest. But what makes Love Exposure truly special is in how gleefully it revels in its own madness. The film follows Yū, a Japanese teenage Catholic high-school student who suffers a family tragedy; his mother passes away, and his father falls into a depression that involves him becoming a priest at the local church, forcing his son to come in every day and confess to sins which he didn’t even commit. In an act of teenage and Christian rebellion and to gain his father’s attention, Yū attempts to sin as frequently and strongly as possible, a goal which causes him to lead a group of fellow lost teens into the world of up-skirt photography.
But this is just a hobby compared to his real goal; to find his “Maria”, a sort of reincarnation of the Virgin Mary who he feels fated to meet and fall in love with. This film is mad, and relentlessly horny, and this comes to a head when he meets his Maria in the form of Yōko, a feminist punk infatuated with Kurt Cobain and Jesus and kicking the asses of whichever man is foolish enough to cross her path.
But whilst this all might sound complicated, the film never loses focus on the pure, fated love at the centre of its bizarre plot.
Of course, this poses a problem for Yū, and begins the film’s exploration of the queer elements of love, the way in which love can transcend sexuality and gender and sex. Yū can only talk to Yōko when dressed as his female alter ego, Miss Scorpion, a vigilante martial artist dressed in all-black with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that hide her face. Yōko, on the other hand, believes herself to be a lesbian, and falls in love with Miss Scorpion the first time she sees her. This problem begins as farcical – there are multiple comedic scenes of quick-changes and awkward phone calls – but soon turns more real and sincere. The presence of Miss Scorpion becomes allegorical for the fluidity of trans identity, and the way in which sexuality and romantic attraction wraps around that. It’s chaotic but honest, as messy as any real relationship can be, and as darkly funny and sweet as it can be, too.
Their love story is rocky at best and apocalyptic at worst; the challenges they face include the marriage of both their single parents, brainwashing, and a psychotic cult member whose bloody violence begins at castrating her own father but certainly doesn’t end there. But whilst this all might sound complicated, the film never loses focus on the pure, fated love at the centre of its bizarre plot. Yū and Yōko’s relationship feels as epic and star-crossed as any love Shakespeare ever wrote, and the film’s long runtime and wild, pervy subject matter only serve as a maximalism of the push and pull of fated love, the ways in which two people can crash through any block that the world puts in their path when they are headed for the love they know they deserve.