The Tongues of Men and of Angels
A digital-projection glitch darkened screen and sound near the end of the two-hundred-thirty-seven minutes (edited down from six hours). But so enthralled was the audience of, admittedly, those attuned to Sion Sono’s work, that all waited while the Museum of Arts and Design re-projected the few comic rewarding missed frames. That indicates how ambitious, crazy, all-encompassing, preposterous and grand Love Exposure/Ai no mukidashi is. Different from, and overall better than, even the writer-director’s Cold Fish -- also included in the series after showings at Lincoln Center’s Film Comments Selects and New York Film Festival -- it is a finale capstone to MAD’s eight-film “The New Poet” first American survey of the cult auteur.
There is florid bloodletting near that end, but this is not gorefest, nor despite a madhouse is it the expected supernatural or horror. It has fights and adolescents who hilariously use martial-arts pinwheel moves to photograph women’s panties but is not a kung-fu flick. There is cross-dressing, a tosatsu porn merchant, a perverts’ club, potential theoretical incest, a hero who postpones his first erection but thereafter cannot control his tumescence, but there is no bare flesh or sex.
Pseudo-sacred music intones, a miracle is counted down to, a Japanese Catholic priest is seduced but falls in love and out of faith. The Virgin opens and closes the wandering loveable tale, the confessional is misused; a Zero Church sect kidnaps, brainwashes and controls; I Corinthians 13 is quoted from memory and then read aloud; love, sin and a hentai/pervert are linked “with dignity,” but this is not anti-religious screed. If some central theme is needed, in fact -- though why ruin the serious reflection clothed in fun? -- it might be true religion versus false, redemptive self-denial, and the film’s insisted-on “faith, hope and love.”
The roller coaster is wild. Child Yu Honda’s pious mother dies, bequeathing him a statuette of the Virgin and exacting a promise that he will introduce her to his Maria when he finds her. Devout father Tetsu (Atsurô Watabe) enters the priesthood, is effective in the pulpit and makes now-teen Yu (Takahiro Nishijima) proud. Moaning in miniskirt and net stockings, Kaori (Makiko Watanabe) shows up at services, turns hysterically fervent, and overcomes resistance to seduce the priest and set up housekeeping with him and his son, only to grow impatient and abandon them for her former lover and tool around in a red convertible that matches her outfits.
The sinning priest becomes hard and distant, forcing his adoring son to confess to sins. The mild boy has none but sets out to find some to please his father the father. In schoolboy tie and jacket uniform, he is accepted by dimwitted rowdies Yûji, Takahiro and Senpai (Yutaka Shimizu, Hiroyuki Onoue, Tasuku Nagaoka). In turn the four adolescents are “voyeur photo trained” by a master in snapping clandestine digital photos of girls’ panties, at which Yu proves such a natural-born genius that he is the leader.
Losing a bet on whose peek-a-panty shots are the day’s best, he dresses in all-black drag as “Miss Scorpion.” Resembling a Michael Jackson, he kung-fu’s to the rescue of schoolgirl sailor-suited Yoko Ozawa (Hikari Mitsushima), no slouch martial-artser herself. A man-hater who has castrated her abusive father, she likes his ex-lover Kaori but wants nothing to do with families and is appalled when Kaori returns to her priest, making seemingly nerdy Yu her “stepbrother”-to-be. She is in lesbian love with Miss Scorpion, whom she contacts by cellphone.Yu, meanwhile, has found his Maria in Yoko.
This is merely the first two hours.
Both young people have been stalked by cult recruiter Aya Koike (Sakura Andô). Chauffeured about, dressed in cream colors like her two female attendants, the former dealer in cocaine and fake reliquaries sports a smug smile and has a thing for her parakeet and for “original sin boy” Yu. It is unimportant whether Yoko, Tetsu and Kaori are strong-armed into Church Zero as true converts or as bait for Yu, who in an attempt to re-kidnap and deprogram his ladylove Maria is himself captured and indoctrinated as a novice Cave Dweller.
It is impossible to do justice to the intricately convoluted plots which Sono winds together in the cult headquarters and then, not so different, an insane asylum. This is, from another context, “a post-Warhol world in which the serious and the trivial mix inextricably.” Whether this madcap means any one thing, or even intends to, is problematical. Who cares, for, manga-indebted but without lens trickery, this is exhilarating cinema experience.
(Released by Olive Films; not rated by MPAA.)