Sion Sono’s 2009 film Love Exposure is about sin and redemption, the inherent absurdity of organized religion, and an accidental transgender romance. “Honda Yu” (Mitsushima Hikari) makes his devoutly Catholic mother (Nakamura Mami) a promise not long before she dies that he’ll find a girl like “Maria,” which is represented by a small statue of Mary, Mother of Christ. When Yu’s father “Honda Tetsu” (Watabe Atsuro)—who in the aftermath of his wife’s demise decided to become a priest—takes a turn for the worst by getting involved with a rather unstable floosy named “Kaori” (Watanabe Makiko) the consequences for Yu set him on a path to encounter his destiny. More specifically, Yu’s father becomes obsessed with hearing Yu confess his sins, which compels the otherwise well-behaving boy to embark on a life of sinning.
With this in mind, Yu encounters three near-do-wells engaged in their own night of petty crimes, like busting open a vending machine. When Yu learns that he and his new friends go to the same high school, his new friends initiate him into their gang. More importantly, when the gang realizes Yu’s preoccupation with sinning, including the fact that his father is a priest, the gang leader decides to introduce him to “Master Lloyd” (Oguchi Hiroshi) who teaches him the stealthy art of up-skirt photography. It’s not long before Yu gets noticed for his exceptional skill. Among his admirers, if you will, is “Koike” (Ando Sakura) founder of the Zero Church, a nefarious organization that’s more about money and power than religion.
All the while, Yu is slowly but inevitably headed toward a “miracle,” which of course turns out to be his “Maria.” When Yoko has an argument with Kaori, Yoko jumps out of Kaori’s car and heads off away from Kaori’s plan to introduce her to her new boyfriend. Meanwhile, Yu has just lost a bet and has to dress in drag and head out into public wearing a floppy hat, wig, and big sunglasses. When Yoko is confronted by a gang of guys who clearly have a grudge with her, Yu and his three friends see what’s happening from a distance. However, even though it’s not his fight, Yu rushes in to help the clearly out-numbered high school girl.
In the raucous mayhem that ensues, Yu and Yoko begin to wonder who the other is. Yu is captivated with Yoko when she prays to Jesus before thrashing her assailants, while Yoko is smitten with this mysterious woman in black who came from out of nowhere to help her. At the end of the fight, Yoko thanks her protector who introduces himself as “Sasori,” or “Miss Scorpion.” Because he’s undoubtedly attracted to Yoko, Yu, as Miss Scorpion, kisses the object of his desire, leaving them both in a swirl of passion and confusion. Aware of what’s just happened, Koike hatches a plan to manipulate Yu, his parents, and the father’s congregation.
In the end, I thought the story was entertaining, replete with many insightful yet hilarious comments about sex and religion, not to mention likeable characters. I did think the script could have edited. There really wasn’t any reason for this movie to be four hours long (cut down from six). As it is, Love Exposure, which is divided into chapters, is like a live action version of a manga. In which case, instead of being a way too long movie, the story might have been better served as a television serial. With respect to Sono’s impressive body of work, Love Exposure adds to the director’s unique perspective on Japanese society, which ranges from the horrors of Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005) to the disturbing myth of suicide in Suicide Club (2001), not to mention a fascination with peculiar family dynamics, such as Cold Fish (2010).