Sion Sono has made an insanely warped family film about a rock star and a turtle.
Brace yourselves, folks. Sion Sono has made a Christmas family film, albeit one that may well traumatise any children who come in contact with it. Love & Peace tells the story of Kyo (Hiroki Hasegawa), an office drone whose youthful dreams of rock stardom have long since withered. He is now such a pathetic loser that his life is the subject of derision on morning TV – although this may or may not be a dream sequence. One lunch break he buys a turtle from a vendor on a park bench, names it Pikadon, and immediately treats it as his only friend and confidante, telling the turtle all his hopes and desires: to be in a band, have a hit song, play in the Tokyo Olympic stadium. But when his co-workers find Pikadon on him the next day, their mockery drives him to flush it down the toilet, where it follows the currents to wind up at a kind of Land of Misfit Toys deep in the sewers, presided over by a boozy wizard (Toshiyuki Nishida). He grants Pikadon magical powers, and thus Kyo, stricken with remorse over his actions, starts to have his wishes granted: he becomes a Spiders-era Bowie-esque star, on his way to the top, but Pikadon is growing in size with every wish.
As that précis probably reveals, Sono’s latest is not the easiest film to sum up. It feels decidedly sick and strange without actually crossing the line into something taboo or transgressive. It’s glossy-looking and has a budget, but the actual experience of watching it is abrasive; for much of the running time we’re watching shonky puppets with squeaky voices interacting with unsubtle human performers, while in the background that parping march from Walter Carlos’s soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange alternates with the horrifically catchy title tune over and over again. For long stretches the film lacks forward momentum, essentially spinning its wheels before it gets to where we know it’s headed. The Sewer of Misfit Toys is a candy-coloured nightmare of live animals and busted merchandise, run by a kindly old man with worrying Charles Manson/Jim Jones parallels. The outside world seems to be full of cruel idiots. And our lead character is pretty hard to like. In fact, Sono seems to want us to despise his hero. I’ve never been fond of the word ‘snivelling’, but Kyo actively snivels in the early stages as an office worker, when he’s not being a delusional gurning man-child at home, a screeching loon in the street and finally an egomaniacal prick when he attains stardom. What fellow worker Yuko (Kumiko Aso) sees in him is hard to understand.
How much of this annoyance is intentional, and what the hell Sono means by it, is, as usual, hard to say. I have the feeling that someone who was more au fait with current Japanese pop culture might get more out of it. Whatever: there are sizeable chunks of Love & Peace where it sits on the right side of ‘delightfully deranged’ and delivers. I suspect that my face sported a sizeable grin for the moments when my head wasn’t buried in my hands. And the climax is a jaw-dropping thing, wherein a glitter-suited feather-cut Kyo stomping around the stadium stage is intercut with full-on Kaiju action as a Gojira-sized Pikadon goes on a slow-moving rampage through Tokyo’s streets under the obligatory assault of the armed forces, on his way to a reunion with his master. The rest Well, it manages to be both sweet and creepy, Sono eschewing his customary sex and violence but still ending up somewhere… unhealthy. It feels like warped children’s birthday entertainment, like… How’s this? Like a clown on misdiagnosed prescription medication putting on a puppet show with stuff he’s pulled from the wreckage of a plane crash. There you go. Fill your boots, and, y’know, Merry Christmas
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