Love & Peace | Sion Sono | Japan | 2015 | 117 minutes
Jake Smith takes a look at Love & Peace and finds it to be a pleasant intersection of the crazy with the conventional.
The Wisconsin Film Festival is no stranger to esoterica. Indeed, festivals should partially serve as vehicles for the eccentric and the marginal. Over the years I have seen many films courtesy of the Festival that I would classify as more than a bit bonkers. Sion Sono’s Love & Peace would seem to slide easily into that category as well. Yet, for all its eccentricities, Love & Peace is deceptively conventional.
We are introduced to the main character, Ryoichi (Hiroki Hasegawa), as an object of ridicule and mockery from the co-workers in his dead-end corporate job. All but a social pariah, good fortune brings Ryoichi the equally nerdy yet much shier Yuko (Kumiko Asô) as a romantic interest. Good fortune also brings Ryoichi a friend who will end up helping him to become a pop singer. We then see the ups and downs of his relationship with Yuko, as well as his transformation into Japan’s biggest pop music sensation. In the broad strokes, the movie plays as a typical rags-to-riches romance. As I said, conventional. And, aside from more than a few moments of exasperation that border on tedium, very enjoyably conventional.
Only, that friend who helps Ryoichi ascend to the heights of pop stardom? Well, here’s where the conventional gets crazy. It’s a very cute, very tiny turtle named Pikadon, that hilariously serves not only as Ryoichi’s friend but as a type of fortune-teller and his eventual muse. As much as the film is Ryoichi’s story, it is also Pikadon’s. Separated from Ryoichi (another convention at work, friends being parted), Pikadon travels into the sewers and finds the “Lost and Found Heaven,” a motley gang of real animals and animatronic toys and puppets, all of whom can talk and are looked after by a drunken old man. With the way Pikadon’s story runs parallel to Ryoichi’s journey, I felt as though J.F. Sebastian’s workshop had come to life1 in the middle of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet version of Josie and the Pussycats (the film, not the show), with kaiju elements eventually thrown into the mix.
Because, if given the chance, why wouldn’t you throw kaiju elements into the mix? It all might be horrifying…if it weren’t so insistently charming.
Love & Peace shifts from typical comedy to surreal fable with surprising ease, given some of the film’s tonal extremity. In one moment, the frame bursts with the brightest colors. In the next, it is steeped in a darker, sometimes dank palette. Stylistically, some of the film’s cleverer moments come its sound. In addition to the generally playful score, pay particular attention to the way the volume of the soundtrack is manipulated during the montage of Ryoichi’s rise to fame. You might think the sound in the theater is off, but it is quite intentional, and quite deft at the level of craft. Speaking of craft, the stagecraft on display in the underground scenes is almost indescribably joyful. Indeed, some of the toys more than occasionally steal the show, especially Sulkie the Cat, Maria, and PC-300.2
With its savvy craft, its bemusingly tight script, and its quirky exploration of the power of wish-making, Love & Peace is nothing if not relentlessly entertaining. When selecting this film to review, I knew next to nothing about either the film itself or Sion Sono as a director, despite the Festival’s screening of Why Don’t You Play in Hell? two years ago. Love & Peace, to quote an oft repeated line in the script, seems to me just the “tip of the iceberg” for his work.
In any case, any movie that features a toy robot drunk on whiskey is well worth your time.
1) If you don’t get the J.F. Sebastian reference, immediately stop what you are doing and watch Blade Runner.
2) I want a Sulkie the Cat movie to happen as soon as possible.