The Whispering Star (ひそひそ星, Sion Sono, 2015)

The Whispering StarSion Sono has been especially prolific of late, though much of his recent output has leant towards the populist rather than the art house. Having garnered a reputation for vulgar excess over the last twenty years or so, Sono returns to his Tarkovskian roots with The Whispering Star (ひそひそ星, Hiso Hiso Boshi) – a contemplative exercise in stillness which has more in common with The Room or Keiko Desu Kedo than the ironic outrageousness of Love & Peace. Yet, in an odd way love and peace are what it’s all about as a lonely android delivers long love letters from the distant past to a dying world in which humanity itself will soon be little more than a memory.

Yoko Suzuki (Megumi Kagurazaka), machine no. 772 , is an employee of Space Parcel Services, delivering packages the old-fashioned way from one human to another all across the universe. Following a series of natural disasters and other errors, humanity is no longer the dominant force amid the stars but makes up only 20% of the population. The other 80% belongs to humanity’s children – the androids or other AI based lifeforms who will soon eclipse their forebears given that humans do not generally live for more than 100 years whereas robots are forever “young”.

Yoko’s only companion aboard her homely spaceship is the dashboard computer, 6-7 M.I.M.E. who seems to have gone quite mad with boredom. Eventually Yoko realises that the problem is that M.I.M.E has descended into literal introspection – all its sensors are pointed inside not out and it’s hopelessly distracted by equally literal “bugs” trapped in the ceiling light. Living out her dull days, Yoko records her thoughts on a reel-to-reel tape hoping to entertain the next “Yoko” who rents this ship (or perhaps she is the next Yoko, listening and continuing the project) while travelling between planets delivering one of the remaining 82 parcels on her docket.

More human than human, Yoko is oddly fascinated by her human customers. An accidental anthropophile, Yoko states that she chose this ship because of its “convenient” features which include a kitchen and a host of other home comforts. Only they’re home comforts an android does not need. Dressing in elegant feminine fashions, Yoko’s other main hobby is housework – dusting the control deck, scrubbing the floors, putting up with the leaking tap, and the ship itself is more like a dainty flying cottage than your average utilitarian space vessel with a pretty porch and tiled roof.

Yoko’s “nostalgia” is for a world she never knew and believes she cannot understand. Space exploration has long since ended, and with it, she tells us, went humanity’s centuries old romance with the outer limits. Teleportation has been mainstream technology for quite some time so why do humans spend vast amounts of money on sending parcels to each other which may take years to arrive when they could just press a button for next second delivery? Yoko doesn’t know, she thinks it must be among the things an android cannot understand and that these things themselves must be the very thing which defines her creators.

Stopping off at various planets, Yoko begins to learn more about humans and the world that they destroyed or was destroyed for them. Shooting once again in the wasteland surrounding Fukushima, Sono explores the ruined landscape, eerily timeless with its broken signs and still stocked stores. Using displaced locals as his extras he has Yoko deliver packages to old ladies still manning tobacco stands on silent beaches, elderly store owners, fathers and sons, or even gum chewing little boys armed with real film cameras sitting on disused station platforms to receive something that was probably dispatched before they were even born. Yoko does not begin to look inside the packages for quite some time but observes that they each seem to provoke a profound emotional reaction in the recipients.

From her first encounter with an eccentric man who invites her out for a drink and tries to stop her space ship leaving by spray painting the window, urging her to come back soon because she may have forever but he will soon be gone, Yoko begins to understand the strange transience of human existence. The old man extols the virtues of bicycles and walks with a tin can stuck to the bottom of his shoe because he likes the sound it makes in this maddeningly silent world. Yoko stores her memories in a more absolute way but for humans the objects are the path to the past. The parcels she delivers have weight because the journey was so arduous, teleportation may be efficient, but something that takes no time has no meaning.

Absurdly, Yoko’s days are divided by title cards bearing the names of the days of the week. Another human affectation or strange hangover from an obsolete world, this decidedly old-fashioned way of dividing time, something now rendered irrelevant to “immortal” machines who (supposedly) feel no boredom or melancholy, is one of many strange anachronisms from the AA batteries which are Yuko’s main source of power to the cheerful dashboard companion shaped liked a classic 1930s wireless and unused manual control wheel which might have been ripped from a small pirate ship. This timeless world is filled with longing for a forgotten, half made-up past inherited from another, unknowable age.

Yet Yoko does begin to learn what it is to be human, even if the knowledge may bring nothing but the additional burden of melancholy. Humanity destroys itself and leaves nothing to its children other than an inescapable sense of loss for a world they never knew. It sounds oddly familiar, like the echoes of an age-old tragedy but there is a kind of hopefulness in Sono’s black and white wasteland for the things which endure even when everything else has been washed away.


Original trailer (English subtitles)

Bad Film (Sion Sono, 1995/2012)

Bad_FilmThe recently prolific Sion Sono actually has a more sporadic film career dating back to the early 1980s though most would judge his real breakthrough to 2001’s Suicide Club. Back in the ‘90s Sono was most active as the leader of anarchic performance art troupe Tokyo Gagaga. Taking inspiration from the avant-garde theatre scene of the 1960s, Tokyo Gagaga took to the streets for flag waving protests and impressive, guerrilla stunts. Bad Film is the result of one of their projects – shot intermittently over a year using the then newly accessible Hi8 video rather the traditionally underground 8 or 16mm, Bad Film is near future set street story centring on gang warfare between the Chinese community and xenophobic Japanese petty gangsters with a side line in shifiting sexual politics.

Momentous things were at play in 1997, not least amongst them the looming handover of Hong Kong when it would cease to operate under British rule and embark upon the “one country, two systems” era with ultimate authority passing to Beijing. Fascism has bloomed in Tokyo with intense anti-foreigner activity targeting all non-Japanese including those from other areas of Asia. By 1997, the yakuza have infiltrated the fascist infrastructure and amped up gang violence between the Chinese community and the ultra-nationalist Japanese.

Fast forward a little and the Chinese and Japanese groups have managed to iron out some of their differences largely thanks to a different kind of divide which ultimately proves a unifying factor – many of the men and women on either side are gay and are sick of the prevailing “hetero hegemony”. Eventually the gay contingent manages to assume control of their respective factions and enact the gay alliance. This is very successful and brings peace and love to the city but unfortunately two members of opposing factions just can’t get over their cultural differences and are prepared to go to great lengths to restart the Japan/China gang war.

Sono shot the entirety of the movie back in 1995 ending up with around 150 hours before abandoning the project for financial reasons. In 2012 Sono re-edited his existing footage into something resembling a feature length film. The project was designed to make use of the entire Tokyo Gagaga company (over 2000 people took part) and was shot guerrilla style with no permits or warnings (you can see at least one face blurred out during their city centre protests). This goes someway to explaining why the narrative diverges unexpectedly at random junctures and the voiceover is there largely to corral the footage into some kind of coherent structure aided by the occasional on screen text. It’s a “Bad Film” in that it’s not quite a film at all but an activist’s poetic documentation of his artistic street warfare even including going so far as to include a justification for the visibility of the cameraman.

Hi8 was what it was – a convenient low-res format for the domestic market. Bad Film is not a pretty film, it looks rough and low rent though that often works in its favour and the film takes on a considered aesthetic that is never concerned with trying to be more than it is. Consequently, it makes the most of its roughness to bring out the grungy, time capsule-esque atmosphere that it’s looking looking for. Sono also experiments with fish eye lenses, odd angles and hand held multi-camera chaos to bring the streets to life. His world is weird, and it’s filmed weird, but it always makes sense in terms of its own particular look.

The action turns on the unexpected love story between two women – one Japanese, and one Chinese, and despite all of the resulting chaos and carnage, the final image we’re left with is one of love. The forces of destruction are those who cannot abandon their hate to live in harmony, subverting this very force for peace and using it to wreak vengeance. Sono launches into absurd mode at full throttle and, as per usual, it’s hard to tell when he’s in earnest and when just being facetious. Bad Film is, loosely speaking, an anti-prejudice themed performance art piece documenting the passion and commitment of the Tokyo Gagaga collective. An interesting case of a belated “director’s cut” Bad Film is necessarily an imperfect beast, but perhaps all the more interesting for it.


Opening sequence (no subtitles)

The Room (部屋, Sion Sono, 1993)

The roomThough the later work of Sion Sono is often noted for its cinematic excess, his earlier career saw him embracing the art of minimalism. The Room (部屋, Heya) finds him in the realms of existentialist noir as a grumpy hitman whiles away his remaining time in the search for the perfect apartment guided only by a detached estate agent.

Sono begins the film with an uncomfortably long static camera shot of a warehouse area where nothing moves until a man suddenly turns a corner and sits down on a bench. We then cut to a rear shot of the same man who’s now sitting facing a harbour filled with boats coming and going as the sun bounces of the rippling sea. We don’t know very much about him but he’s dressed in the crumpled mac and fedora familiar to every fan of hardboiled fiction and walks with the steady invisibility of the typical genre anti-hero.

Before we head into the main “narrative” such as it is, Sono presents us with another uncomfortably long shot of the title card which takes the form of a street sign simply reading The Room, over which someone is whistling a traditional Japanese tune. Eventually we catch up with the hitman as he meets a young female estate agent identified only by the extremely long number she wears on the jacket of her official looking business suit. The hitman gruffly lists his poetical demands for his new home – must be quiet, have the gentle smell of spring flowers wafting through it, and above all it must have an open, unoverlooked view from a well lit window. The estate agent reacts with dispassionate efficiency, her gaze vacantly directed at the floor or around the rundown apartments which she recommends to her client. Together, the pair travel the city looking for the elusive “Room” though perhaps that isn’t quite what they’re seeking after all.

Sono shoots the entire film in grainy black and white and in academy ratio. He largely avoids dialogue in favour of visual storytelling though what dialogue their is is direct, if poetic, almost symbolic in terms of tone and delivery. The occasional intrusion of the jazzy score coupled with the deserted streets and stark black and white photography underline the noir atmosphere though like the best hardboiled tales this is one filled emptiness led by a man seeking the end of the world, even if he doesn’t quite know it.

In fact, the relationship between our hitman and the passive figure of the estate agent can’t help but recall Lemmy Caution and the unemotional Natasha from Godard’s Alphaville – also set in an eerily cold city. If Sono is channelling Godard for much of the film, he also brings in a little of Tarkovsky as the hitman and estate agent make an oddly arduous train journey around the city looking for this magical space much like the explorers of the Zone in Stalker. Yet for all that there’s a touch of early Fassbinder too in Sono’s deliberately theatrical staging which attempts both to alienate and to engage at the same time.

The Room’s central conceit is its use of extremely long shots filled with minimal action or movement. In a 90 minute film, Sono has given us only 44 takes, lingering on empty streets and abandoned buildings long enough to test the patience of even the most forgiving viewer. Deliberately tedious, The Room won’t counter arguments of indulgence but its increasing minimalism eventually takes on a hypnotic quality, lending to its dreamlike, etherial atmosphere.

Here the city seems strange, a half formed place made up of half remembered images and crumbling buildings. Empty trains, scattered papers, and lonely bars are its mainstays yet it’s still somehow recognisable. Leaning more towards Sono’s poetic ambitions than the anarchism of his more aggressive work, The Room is a beautifully oblique exploration of the landscape of a tired mind as it prepares to meet the end of its journey.


Original trailer (no subtitles):

Keiko Desu Kedo (桂子ですけど, Sion Sono, 1997)

Keiko desu kedoI was 21 years when I wrote this song, I’m 22 now but I won’t be for long…the leaves that are green are turning to brown for the heroine of Keiko Desu Kedo (桂子ですけど, “I am Keiko”). Approaching her 22nd birthday and with the recent death of her father ever present in her mind, she’s begun to feel the passage of time even more keenly. She doesn’t want to miss out on or forget anything so she’s going to share with us the last three weeks of her 21st year on Earth.

The first image we see of Keiko has her looking directly at us, holding our gaze while a Rothko-esque backdrop and ambient sounds of children arguing and birds singing provide our only context. After a few minutes she looks away, shyly, before resuming contact with a sad smile. Eventually a single tear courses down her cheek and she looks away again. We become her audience as she narrates her existence to us, filled with moments of everyday tedium – cleaning, sitting in silence and gazing out of windows. As the time begins to run out, she moves on to more direct forms of communication including a daily news broadcast where she relates the fact that once again it has been a slow news day in the land of Keiko. The time passes, Keiko grows older, as we all do, nothing changes, nothing stays the same.

This relatively early effort from Sono has a very definite French new wave influence with a little Fassbinder thrown in to boot. Much of the film takes the form of still frames accompanied by Keiko’s voice over which often consists of her counting out loops of 60s to aurally honour each passing second. Keiko lives in an oddly colourful, childlike world in her bright red apartment which has bright yellow furniture though the rest of her existence is fairly empty. As she tells us at the beginning, the only things in this apartment are herself and the bones of her father. As if to bear witness to the French new wave theme, she even shows us some other relics of the life she’s lost in the form of a packet of her father’s Gauloises cigarettes inside their unopened and equally colourful light blue box.

In a touch of Godardian mischief, Sono breaks the film into mini chapters with the help of frequent colour cards bearing the names of the days of the week (notably Keiko skips a day here and there or elides two days into one with another colour card simply stating the hour). It seems as if Keiko is eager to pass the time, she will be “reborn” the moment she crosses over into year 22 – leaving this grief filled coda behind her. Yet the time passes slowly, tediously spent in inconsequential pursuits. Actress Keiko Suzuki excels in the difficult task of playing the identically named Keiko, imbuing her depression filled voice overs with a degree of melancholy warmth. She seems to want to connect with us, staring up at us after scribbling out the words “I am” written on an otherwise blank piece of of paper with her father’s fountain pen. She reaches out to us, but we are powerless to respond, all we can do for her is to listen and bear witness to these final three weeks of her soon to be former life.

In the light of Sono’s later career, Keiko Desu Kedo may seem like a strange entry in his back catalogue. Tightly focusing on one young woman as she comes to terms with grief and the passage of time, Keiko Desu Kedo is an exercise in minimalism from a man later known for his cinematic excesses. Yet, there is excess here too in the stylisation of Keiko’s world, her brightly coloured living environment and various “disguises” she adopts in her news reader persona. Tellingly, in her final broadcast Keiko appears as herself but has nothing to say to us, once again looking directly into the camera with moistened eyes, full of loneliness. Presumably at the end of the film as she skips off away from her apartment trash bag in hand and counting down the seconds, she no longer needs us and all that remains is for her to read the credits of her confessional video diary, thereby bidding adieu to her old self via this strange obituary pausing only to thank us as the lights go out.


Unsubbed trailer:

Shinjuku Swan (新宿スワン, Sion Sono, 2015)

Shinjuku SwanEnfant terrible of the Japanese film industry Sion Sono has always been prolific but recent times have seen him pushing the limits of the possible and giving even Takashi Miike a run for his money in the release stakes. Indeed, Takashi Miike is a handy reference point for Sono’s take on Shinjuku Swan (新宿スワン) – an adaptation of a manga which has previously been brought to the small screen and is also scripted by an independent screenwriter rather than self penned in keeping with the majority of Sono’s directing credits. Oddly, the film shares several cast members with Miike’s Crows Zero movies and even lifts a key aesthetic directly from them. In fact, there are times when Shinjuku Swan feels like an unofficial spin-off to the Crows Zero world with its macho high school era tussling relocated to the seedy underbelly of Kabukicho. Unfortunately, this is somewhat  symptomatic of Sono’s failure, or lack of will, to add anything particularly original to this, it has to be said, unpleasant tale.

Our “hero” is down on his luck loser Tatsuhiko (Go Ayano) who’s come to Shinjuku to make it big. He’s here because it’s the sort of place you can make it happen with no plan and no resources. “Luckily” for him, he runs into low-level gangster Mako (Yusuke Iseya) who spots some kind of potential in him and recruits him as a “scout” for his organisation, Burst. Now dressed in a fancy suit, Tatsuhiko’s new job is stopping pretty girls in the street and trying to talk them into working in the sex industry….

Tatsuhiko is not the brightest and doesn’t quite understand what the implications of his work are. When he finally gets it, he feels conflicted but Mako convinces him that’s it’s OK really with a set of flimsy moral justifications. Before long, Tatsuhiko comes into conflict with a lieutenant, Hideyoshi (Takayuki Yamada), from the rival gang in town, Harlem, and a yakuza style territorial dispute begins to unfold destabilising the entire area.

Sono has often been criticised for latent misogyny and an exploitative approach to his material and Shinjuku Swan is yet more evidence for those who find his output “problematic”. Though based on a manga and scripted by a third party, Shinjuku Swan has an extremely ill-defined take on the sex industry and the people involved with it. After figuring out what happens to the girls he takes to Mako, Tatsuhiko has second thoughts but Mako tells him that the girls are happy and are in this line of work because they enjoy it (leaving out all the stuff about debts, drugs, and violence). So Tatsuhiko vows to make even more girls live happy lives inside the “massage parlours” of Kabukicho.

Noble heart or not, Tatsuhiko is a pimp. Not even that, he’s a middle man pimp. He’s earning his money from the suffering of the women that’s he conned, coerced, and finally exploited. Leaving aside the idea that, yes, some of these women may be perfectly happy with the arrangement, at least one of Tatsuhiko’s recruits displays evidence of previous self harm and is unable to cope with the demands of her new way of life. Another woman, Ageha (Erika Sawajiri), who becomes Tatsuhiko’s primary damsel in distress, escapes into a children’s fairytale picture book in which a prince with crazy hair just like Tatsuhiko’s comes to rescue the heroine from her life of slavery and takes her to a place of love and safety. Tatsuhiko “rescues” her by taking her to a “nicer” brothel…

Tatsuhiko may have convinced himself that he’s somehow a force for good, “helping” these women into employment and providing “protection” for them unlike the other guys from rival gangs who use drugs and violence to keep their girls in line, but his continued belief in his own goodness becomes increasingly hard to swallow as he learns more about how this industry really works. It’s difficult to believe in a “hero” who is so deluded about his own place in the grand scheme of things – he’s not stupid enough to be this oblivious, but not clever enough to be continually unseeing all of the darkness that surrounds the way he makes his living.

All of this is merely background to the central yakuza gang war which later ensues. Tatsuhiko ends up as a pawn in the tussle for territory between Burst and Harlem as double crosses become triple crosses and no one is to be trusted. Predictably, Tatsuhiko and Hideyoshi turn out to have a long standing connection though this revelation never achieves the dramatic weight it’s looking for and the gang war itself is, at best, underwhelming. Notable scenes including a classic battle in the rain could have been spliced in from Crows Zero and no one would have noticed. The main dramatic thread remains Tatsuhiko’s journey as he travels from clueless loser to, admittedly still clueless, assured petty gangster and smooth talking lady killer.

If there’s an overall feeling which imbues Shinjuku Swan, it’s lack of commitment. Though often beautifully photographed and featuring some interestingly composed sequences (including a few Carax-esque musical set pieces) the final effect is one of workman-like competence. Not bad by any means, but this feels like the work of a director for hire and lacks the sense of the personal that a would-be-auteur would usually seek to provide. Moral ambiguity can often be a film’s strong point, inviting comment and debate rather than pushing a pre-defined agenda but Shinjuku Swan takes too many incompatible approaches to the already unpalatable series of questions that it stops short of asking. Distinctly uneven, Shinjuku Swan ends on a note of anti-climax and though a perfectly serviceable, mainstream, commercial effort proves something of a disappointment from a director who has often managed to bring out a sense of mischievous irony in similarly themed work to date.


Unsubtitled trailer:

Bicycle Sighs (自転車吐息, Sion Sono, 1989)

utJ5fVVtDUtt2rlbYWNjvqTFrytThese days we think of Sion Sono as the recently prolific, slightly mellowed former enfant terrible of the Japanese indie cinema scene. Hitting the big time with his four hour tale of religion and rebellion Love Exposure before more recently making a case for ruined youth in the aftermath of a disaster in Himizu or lamenting the state of his nation in Land of Hope what we expect of him is an energetic, sometimes ironic assault on contemporary culture. However, his beginnings were equally as varied as his modern output and his first feature length film, Bicycle Sighs (自転車吐息, Jidensha Toiki), owes much more to new wave malaise than to post-punk rage.

Loosely speaking, Bicycle Sighs is a kind of coming of age film where three teenagers experience a bout of anxiety about the future near the end of the ‘80s. Shiro (played by Sono himself), Keita and their female friend Katako have remained behind in their small town after all of their friends have moved on, mostly to universities. Life for them carries on much as before as they continue their part time paper rounds and messing about around town. Shiro, the more arrested of the pair of boys, becomes fixated on the idea of finishing a film they started making in high school whereas Keita wants to finally get into college himself and study to be a doctor.

As might be inferred from the English language title, there’s a sort of latent nostalgia for an era of innocent, aimless bicycle riding – of time spent with now absent friends and an adulthood that was far enough away not be worth worrying about. The bicycles themselves take on a symbolic quality and actually end up undergoing two different kinds of “funerals” during the film, once by burial and another by fire. This all seems like a pointer towards a bonfire of innocence but in actuality nothing very serious happens to any of the young people in the film save the usual occasions of heart break and disillusionment.

The 8mm sections filmed for the film within a film segments are often the most impressive, taking on an authentic sort of youthful exuberance. The “First Base” movie that the guys are making is a typical high school scenario in which the friends are enjoying a game of baseball but start discovering their game invaded by “invisible runners”. Later they start to be able to see one of them only he’s wearing a Godzilla mask and carrying a briefcase. Eventually he leaves the game trailing a long line out behind him. When Shiro tries to finish the film it develops into a great sci-fi style conspiracy where the kids uncover a plot in which their own “invisibility” is the ultimate aim.

Bicycle Sighs is a picture of youth in disarray (a theme Sono would often come back to). They’re each in search of their identity, some wanting to move back and others forward but all stuck in a limbo land of frustration. Sono packs in avant-garde inspired symbols like flags with the various Japanese characters for “I” emblazoned on them or another character taking to the streets alone on new year’s eve (also the eve of his own birthday) to wish happy new year to an empty town. There’s a great deal of interesting material in Bicycle Sighs, but ultimately its messages are a little oblique and somehow Sono never manages to bring everything together in a meaningful way. Nevertheless, some of his later skills shine through, particularly in the 8mm scenes, and there’s enough going on to please most attentive viewers even if it seems a little derivative at times.


You can actually get this on UK iTunes with English subtitles (for the moment anyway)

 

Love & Peace (UK Anime Network Review)

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Another day another Sion Sono – review of Love & Peace from the London Film Festival up at UK Anime Network. Quite liked this one, shame it’s not out in time for Christmas.


Last time we met Sion Sono it was for a street style rap musical about gang warfare. Before that we’ve mostly been admiring him for his epic and irreverent tale of panty shot perverts and bizarre religion Love Exposure, bloody serial killer true crime thriller Cold Fish or poetic exploration of a woman looking for love in all the wrong places in Guilty of Romance, not to mention a tale of teenage rage and post Earthquake anxiety in Himizu or state of the nation address in Land of Hope. Recently prolific and varied enough to give even Takashi Miike a run for his money, it should come as no surprise that Sono’s latest effort is, essentially, a family film about a man’s love for his pet turtle.

Ryoichi Suzuki is a mild mannered office worker with dreams of becoming a rock star. Belittled by his colleagues, Ryoichi has no friends – that is until he falls hard for a tiny turtle sold by a strange man on a rooftop. Hatching plans together for Ryoichi’s rise to superstardom the pair become inseparable. However, after another round of humiliation at work Ryoichi flushes “Pikadon” down the toilet! Full of remorse, Ryoichi pines for his lost friend meanwhile, Pikadon arrives at the lair of a mysterious sewer dweller who rescues broken and discarded creatures. When Pikadon is given a “wish” pill by mistake, Ryoichi’s life soon begins to change!

In case it needs saying, Love & Peace is in no way a “serious” film – much as that may sound like a pejorative comment, all that means is that it’s delightfully absurd and heaps of fun and where it harks back to some of Sono’s key concerns it does so in a light hearted, even mocking manner. The plot maybe conventional in a lot of ways – down trodden loser suddenly makes something of himself with magical help but ends up becoming arrogant and forgetting his true self before being redeemed by a massive fall from grace but as usual Sono has managed to bring something new to even this comparatively tired tale.

Largely, that’s thanks to his bizarre side story of the land of misfit toys being cared for by a mysterious yet kindly old man who lives in a tiny alcove in one of Tokyo’s sewer complexes. Cheerfully harking back to some of those classic ‘80s kids movies, the strange collection of broken robots, damaged cat toys and lovelorn dolls do their best to tug at the heart strings with their stories of loss and abandonment while the mysterious old man keeps them going with tales of hope and magic pills which grant the power of speech or wishes.

However, as Ryoichi’s dreams grow bigger so does Pikadon himself and its not long before the cute little turtle’s devotion to his master becomes a dangerous threat to the entire city. Ryoichi chose the name “Pikadon” seemingly at random and without realising that it’s become a byword for the atomic bomb. Thus Ryoichi’s eventual ballad of love and regret for his lost turtle buddy is misunderstood as a lament for modern Japan and a pledge to “never forget” the wartime nuclear attacks. Of course, this “subversive political rock song” becomes a giant hit catapulting Ryoichi on the road to superstardom. However, there is more heartbreak for Pikadon to come as he’s continually betrayed by the ever more ambitious Ryoichi who’s only too quick to sell out his beloved friend to get ahead with cruel and potentially tragic consequences.

Of course, the one thing that needs mentioning is the amazing music in the film including the title song which is tailor made for waving a lighter in the air and is sure to become your latest ear worm. Ryoichi only writes a few songs but Sono also manages to throw in a musical self reference to a previous film that makes for a fun Easter Egg for his avid fans to find and the rest of the soundtrack is equally catchy too.

In short, Love & Peace is the Christmas themed punk rock kid’s movie you never knew you needed. Yes, it goes to some very dark places – the least of which is the accidental destruction of the city of Tokyo by the now colossal kaiju incarnation of Pikadon whose only wish is to make his best friend’s rockstar dreams come true, but it does so with heart. In true family film fashion, it addresses the themes of true friendship, the importance of being true to yourself and that the love of man and turtle can be a beautiful, if terrifying, thing. Strange, surreal and totally mad, Love & Peace is the ideal Christmas gift for all the family and Sono’s most enjoyably bizarre effort yet.


I wrote this review before I’d seen Tag which is also “enjoyably bizarre”, it has to be said. Love & Peace will be released in the UK in 2016 courtesy of Third Window Films.

Some other Reviews of Sion Sono movies written by me: