Thursday, December 10, 2009

Love Exposure

If you ever get a chance to watch Sion Sono's film "Love Exposure" in the theater, please take it. The 240 minute commitment may seem daunting, but embrace the masochism. Bring friends, eat a proper preparatory meal (not too much sugar, you might have an insulin overshoot), dress comfortably and pee just before the lights go down so you don't miss anything. It sounds ridiculous to me even as I type this, but I burst into applause not only at the end of the film but at the sixty minute mark -- when the title finally slams down on the screen, "LOVE EXPOSURE" in big, loud letters that make you realize you are just beginning this awesome marathon of a movie. Sono's film feels like a gift. It unifies the efficiency of a film with the expansiveness of a long-form TV show, and takes as it likes from the post-modern novel. But always, always it is purely and beautifully and boisterously a film.

The gist of the story is this: Yu's very religious mother dies, but before she does she tells him to wait for the perfect woman; his Mary. Her death sends his father on a stalwart path to become a priest, but once he enters into fatherhood, everything gets lopsided. He requires Yu to confess his sins constantly, but Yu is such a good kid he has to start making up sins to confess. His lies just anger his father. So, Yu starts sinning to please his father. His first step: upskirt photography. I might stress that this all takes place in the first 35-40 minutes of the film. Add to that about a half dozen main characters, a background conspiracy, tone and genre shifts and lots of penis, and there you have "Love Exposure."

I'm reluctant to speak any more about the plot or embed the subtitled trailer that just popped up on You Tube. It would take away from the experience of witnessing the broad humor and story logic for yourself. The energy is what you need to know about. [Ed note: the following may or may not be true? Doing research. Read the comments section] Apparently Sono wanted to film his phonebook of a script and was turned away because of obvious commercial concerns. To ensure an audience he got two Japanese pop stars to play the leads, and even then the producers only gave him 6 weeks to shoot. He agreed, only if he got final cut. The producers agreed. Then, half way through the shoot, the producers tried to renig on their agreement, totally afraid of a commercial bomb. So, Sono refused to shoot another frame until they agreed to his terms. He lost a week battling with the producers and still finished the film. The pace of the shooting comes through most in the pace of the enormous story, which divides itself into chapters, but not as many as you might think.



In August Quentin Tarantino talked to LA Weekly about a novel-sized film:

The whole idea of a DVD box set is pretty amazing. No writer-director has yet taken advantage of that format, a wonderful one to be a true auteur with.

You mean the way [Kill Bill is] divided into chapters?

Exactly — a novel-length piece that would be written and directed completely by me. Anyway, I put it aside, and did Kill Bill. It came time to go back to it and I was really considering this miniseries idea and even worked it out as 12 chapters. That was a very interesting exercise. Then I went to dinner with Luc Besson and his producing partner, I’m telling them about this miniseries idea, and the producer was right onboard. But Luc was, like, “I’m sorry, you’re one of the few directors who actually makes me want to go to the movies. And the idea that I might have to wait five years to go into a theater and see one of your movies is depressing to me.” And once I heard that, I couldn’t unhear it. I realized that the original story was just too big.

Sono's film is interesting because its length and structure can surely be called 'novelistic,' but unlike "Decalogue," or the TV version of "Scenes From a Marriage," or a long-form HBO show, or the fantasy DVD box set that Tarantino speaks of, "Exposure" is meant to be seen in one sitting. Thus its length works against it, rather than for it. "Sopranos" can introduce a new character at the beginning of a season and then wait until the finale to kill him off. The logic is to keep you watching, so they push back the big events. "Exposure," on the other hand, has to keep you in your seat, and Sono employs every tool he has: broad comedy, kung-fu, gross-out gore, sexy ladies, suspense, romance, and most importantly a story that moves at break-neck efficiency.

The length allows him to play around with expectations, though. There are scenes in the first half of the movie that move at such a speed that they could be considered impressionistic montages of huge chunks of story rather than actual, specific scenes. By the second half of the film, though, the scenes lock down and become claustrophobic. A scene will last twenty minutes in one room, with even the takes themselves extended. The result is a really lovely meeting between the strengths of a speedy movie and a long-form TV show. Rather than treating it like an epic, Sono makes "Exposure" feel more like three 80 minute movies, or maybe even ten 24 minute segments.

Coming out of it, I couldn't help but think that if Tarantino could pull off a schedule like that, we'd see more gifts like this one in the cinema. The studio systems obviously differ here, but there has to be a path for more movies like this to get made, and I'm sure it starts with absurdly small shooting schedules. And, by the way, the movie is a huge hit in Japan. It ran for months to packed houses, and is very popular amongst teenage viewers, perhaps strangely. I don't expect any American producers to heed the call for four hour movies, but its good to know there's a market and a possibility for such a large canvas.

2 comments:

Von said...

Apparently Sono wanted to film his phonebook of a script and was turned away because of obvious commercial concerns. To ensure an audience he got two Japanese pop stars to play the leads, and even then the producers only gave him 6 weeks to shoot. He agreed, only if he got final cut. The producers agreed. Then, half way through the shoot, the producers tried to renig on their agreement, totally afraid of a commercial bomb. So, Sono refused to shoot another frame until they agreed to his terms. He lost a week battling with the producers and still finished the film

This is news to me. Might I ask where you happened upon this information? Based on the info I've managed dredge up, he didn't choose Nishijima & Mitsushima because one's a pop star and the other's an ex-idol. I get the feeling that if he wanted to sell his film from that angle, he'd have gotten bigger and more well-known stars.

Mitsushima, he's worked with before in one of his previous works (I believe it was the one called Hair Extensions) and saw a sort of potential in her that made the artist in him want to mould, which is why he drove her so hard--literally to tears, even-- when filming Love Exposure (as can be seen from the making of the film that's included in the DVD).

Nishijima, based on this Japanese article, he chose purely based on the unblemished air of innocence he had about him and the fact that he looked extremely convincing in drag. In fact, he was actually very, very averse to idea of casting a pop star (considering the sort of director he seems to be, it's to be expected), much less one who had very limited acting experience, at first but after one meeting with Nishijima, who filled the above two criterias like no one before him had and had about zero star aura on him ("painfully ordinary", in his own words), he decided he's found his perfect Yu Honda. Incidentally, according to the same article, a producer recommended Nishijima to him after seeing his many failed attempts in finding someone suitable to cast in the lead role.

joe said...

Thanks for the info! I got that information from the head of the movie theater that screened "Exposure" when I saw it. I'll check his sources and get back to you. He has hookups with various international cinema scholars that poke their heads into the theater every once in a while, so I just assumed he got the info from them. Keep you posted!