Love Exposure // Stuart Buck

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I am not an experimental writer

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I’m trying to write an experimental movie piece on a movie which is probably my favorite ever (if pressed, its this or Mulholland Drive). The problem is, I don’t really classify myself as an experimental writer, and as such I’m struggling with the concept.

What’s an experimental piece of writing, and more specifically how do you write about a 4 hour movie in an experimental way? I shouldn’t have looked on the fucking website. Because I saw Gary Shipley on the website and I love Gary Shipley. His book Terminal Park is one of my favorite books ever. He reduces humanity to a kind of slop. I didn’t read his piece because I knew it would be like walking naked in the rain. It would make me so small. The movie is called Love Exposure and it is directed by sex-pest extraordinaire Sion Sono.

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54 dead schoolgirls

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The scene that made me watch Love Exposure was not from the movie Love Exposure. Rather it was the opening shot of Sono’s 2001 masterpiece Suicide Club. In it, 54 teenage girls hold hands, chatting excitedly, by the side of a train track on the Tokyo subway. As the train approaches, they begin to count down, swinging their arms. The train moves closer. You never – not once – assume it will go down this way.

Then they jump.

The entire station is bathed in red. Sono doesn’t hold back. It’s one of the best opening scenes in cinema history. He did this again in Tag. I won’t describe Tag’s opening scene. Go watch it on YouTube. Once I saw Suicide Club and Sono’s ability to produce cinema that made me doubt my sanity, I realized Love Exposure was for me.

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Dress me up and parade me round town

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Love Exposure is a wonder. A free-form, ecstatic piece of cinema. It’s about guilt – specifically religious guilt. It’s about perversions – including but certainly not limited to Panchira photographs[1]. Its about the things we do to kids and how it affects them in later life. It’s about cults, its about wanting to fuck Jesus, its about whirling around Tokyo looking FUCKING FABULOUS while you defile innocent women. It’s about obsessively wanting the right girl. It’s about porn and power. Sono isn’t a trad movie maker in any sense of the word, but nothing he had made up to Love Exposure hinted at the insanity (and duration) of this project.

A lot of Love Exposure is about people being fucked up because of things that happened to them. Almost every character gets humiliated in one way or another. Yû, who is the main character, experiences this the most. The focus is on how much his dad fucks him up. He passes down his guilt to his son. Tetsu is seduced by an insane woman named Saori who moves him away from the clergy then dumps his ass. There are a lot of gorgeous girls in Love Exposure, but the one character I have ever had a sex dream about is Saori. She is a fucking monster in every way and would break me in half. I’d let her. Giving yourself over to something that you know will destroy you. Letting it destroy you. There’s a specific form of fetish called Financial Domination. I’m too poor to have ever indulged, but the idea is you let someone take control of your finances. Whatever we think about money, that’s the most sacred thing of all. You pay these girls huge sums of money for them to humiliate you. In extreme cases, you let them bankrupt you. The helplessness that comes from this must be really something. I expect a lot of the people who indulge in it have two bank accounts and three kids which seems a cheat. If I did this, I’d let them ruin me. Anyway.

Because of Saori and his split from innocence, Tetsu forces Yû to confess every day, and when Yû runs out of things to confess, he begins to make them up just to appease his father. But it isn’t enough. It’s never enough. Eventually they will hold you by the throat. They always do. Yû is forced out of his house and from there the story really begins.

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All perverts are created equal

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Yû meets two kids on the street while he freewheels away from his strict dad. They go to a boot-camp for Panchira photographers, where they train to become professionals. There’s great camaraderie in these scenes. Sono is a master because he takes these boys who we should be disgusted at and turns them into a sympathetic group who we root for. He holds these boys up against the adults and hopes you see what he sees.

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They fuck you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to, but they do – Phillip Larkin

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It helps that this section is fucking hilarious. Like… some of the funniest shit you will ever see. A lot of it is just montage scenes of them cartwheeling around taking polaroids of women’s panties. The scenes are overdone to the degree that they become funny. The sense of physical comedy is strong. Love Exposure is tagged as a Romantic Comedy which I think is about right. You couldn’t possibly tag it as anything else.

Yû makes such a great splash on the Panchira scene that he ends up working for a porn company. While all this goes on he also dresses as a kick-ass female superhero called Miss Scorpion. Miss Scorpion ‘saves’ Keko from a group of men who want to rape her – although he/she doesn’t really save Keko because Keko just happens to also be incredible at Kung-Fu. You don’t need to ask why this happens. It moves the plot forward. It allows Sono to maneuver his characters into more and more distressing and ridiculous situations. The plot flies off from here and takes in cults, de-programming (something I was subjected to), love triangles, more guilt, more guilt, fucking bad-ass ninjas and mental institutions. It’s really something you need to watch to understand. Four hours is a fair old slog, but consider watching it over two nights like I do. Oh, and if you think 4 hours is long I recently watched Satantango and that was nearly 8. I won’t break down anymore of what happens here because trailers for movies nowadays just give away everything and I hate that.

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I was a teenage cult star

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Its hardly surprising that I rank Love Exposure at the very top of my all time favorite movie list. I am, myself, a pervert. My wife refers to me as ‘a dirty little guy’. A real slut. That’s fine. But beyond that, I also have experience in many of the other elements that combine to make Sono’s masterwork. There’s a cult that runs throughout the movie, the Zero Church. I was in a cult. Not the Zero Church, which is very much a business ploy and also fictional. This was a full on Judeo-Christian cult called The Twelve Tribes of Israel. I lived with them for 2 years. They owned a bakery and baked bread using an ancient grain known as Spelt. It’s nice (Spelt), although I do feel it’s a little heavier than traditionally milled white flour. I expect it was more popular back in medieval times when you had to fill your stomach entirely with one slice of bread. I really appreciate not having to live in medieval times. Right after I left the cult, a huge story broke (in the UK) about them harming their kids. Apparently it was routine for them to spank their kids with a switch[2]. I never saw any of this but honestly I hate kids so probably wouldn’t have mentioned anything.

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Judge me daddy

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This sexualized violence is rife in Love Exposure. Sono allows us to sympathize with characters who abuse, harm and defile others. He does this because he understands something about being human that is lost in the seething ranks of pissy Social Media users. He understands that people are human, and to be human is to err. None of us are perfect. No one in Love Exposure emerges with any real glory. They are all fucked up, battered little things who sin again and again because it’s what they think they need to do to make things right. Yoko, the girl, is possibly the most spotless character and she spends the entire film being abused, humiliated and lied to. In the age of ‘a hero must be good and a villain must be bad’, it’s clear what Sono is saying. To make things better, both for them and for the people they love, people have to fuck things up.

Sono understands the nuance that comes with modern life. We reduce people down to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ because they have done something that either upsets us or pleases us. These people become a two-dimensional object that we can project our own inadequacies onto. Sono knows this isn’t right. He knows that the kid who is taking Panchira photos with his friends is doing it because he has been fucked up. By his dad, but also by his mum dying. He spirals out of control and does despicable things because its incredibly difficult to break free from the shackles placed upon you by abusive parents. He does it because, at first, it means friendship. It means a place to stay, a place to belong. Something primal takes over, and you no longer understand the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong. You do things because people expect them of you.

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[1] A word on Panchira. It’s a smash of the word panty and the Japanese sound chira – meaning glimpse. There’s an important difference between this and Upskirting. Upskirting includes the mystery of whether the girl will have underwear or not. Panchira specifies she has underwear. All the shots in Love Exposure are of girls with panties on – hence they are taking Panchira photos not Upskirting.

[2] A switch is a long, flexible piece of wood. If you really want to fuck a kid up, make them go out to a tree and find a branch themselves – it’s like digging your own grave. I went to a private school and my year was the final year before they stopped hitting kids with slippers when they were naughty.

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Stuart Buck runs the Bear Creek Gazette and loves his wife.

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