One of Japan’s most prolific filmmakers working today, Sion Sono, has been in the business of reinventing himself these last few years. With films like Tokyo Tribe, Himizu and The Land of Hope, Sono has begun to slowly move away from the “bad boy”, dark, brutal, bloody filmmaker that had attracted him a huge cult following. Love & Peace, one of six films the director has released in 2015, continues that trend and adds yet another very distinctive colour onto the artist’s palette.
Although Love & Peace is essentially a film about one man’s dream to become a rock star, you could say the show is stolen by a cast of cute, fluffy talking toys and animals plus a terrapin that literally becomes larger than life. Animatronics and puppetry thus become the most obvious filmic technique used in this film and these creatures all inhabit a dwelling deep within the sewers of Tokyo. They are the quintessential dispossessed outsiders, an ongoing Sion Sono theme. This motley crew of cuddlies is mustered and nurtured by one very old man (Toshiyuki Nishida) who has a love for alcohol, magic pills and has an annual mission that occurs toward the end of December every year.
Our budding rock star, played by Hiroki Hasegawa (the director of the film within the film in Why Don’t You Play in Hell?) is in reality a lonely office worker who is bullied to the nth degree by his co-workers and harbours a secret love for the office frump played by Kumiko Aso. The whole story kicks into action when he is teased mercilessly for bringing his pet terrapin to work and in a fit of despair he flushes it down the toilet. There’s the link with the sewer!
Wracked with depression and longing for his beloved terrapin Pikadon, the words for his maiden hit are etched in his brain and set to simple acoustic strummings. How they are unleashed to an unsuspecting public is through a bizarre kidnapping plot that sees him performing on a dog leash and collar around his neck. Just one of the many weird and wonderful plot points that abound in this film.
There are links to Hiroshima, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Godzilla and Santa Claus here as well; Sono’s Love & Peace is a film about the magic of wishing and of dreams that come true. But of course, in case it sounds like it might be a bit saccharine or sweet for die-hard Sono fans, there is the poet’s moral tale and I think for open-minded casual viewers there won’t be much in the way of disappointment. This is Sono like you’ve never seen him before.
Love & Peace was written by Sono 20 years ago and he has been trying to make it ever since but in his words he could never find an investor. A number of elements within this film inflate the budget somewhat but he also states that had he made it way back then, the outcome and some of the scenes would have taken on a more angry, perhaps violent tone thus effecting the overall outcome. Sono has softened with age and in the case of this film the result is appropriate. It is one of his most difficult films that he has ever made due to the animals he has had to work with, the puppetry plus a few of the more epic large scale fantastical scenes towards the end. Yet Sono perseveres and proves time and time again that he’s capable of outdoing himself. I said it with Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, I said it with Tokyo Tribe and I’ll say it again with Love & Peace: what’s next? How is Sion Sono going to top this one?