Writer: Sion Sono
Cast: Hiroki Hasegawa, Kumiko Aso, Toshiyuki Nishida
Running time: 117mins
The lowdown: After the snot-nosed punk energy of Tokyo Tribe, director Sion Sono has done the most subversive thing imaginable and made a family film. The story of a failed rock star getting back to the top with the help of a magic turtle may not sound promising, but in Sono’s hands it’s a “see it to believe it” delight. Wild, warm and rather wonderful.
The full verdict: No matter if it’s horror, drama, thriller, comedy or teen hip-hopera, you know when you’re watching a Sion Sono film. Typically because it’s likely to contain all of the above.
Love and Peace tones down the 18-certificate baiting aspects of most other Sono features, but retains the wildness.
Opening as a comedy about a salaryman dreaming of stardom, over two hours it metamorphoses into a puppet movie, Christmas film, and Japanese monster flick. It ain’t dull and as importantly is never tiresome.
Ryuichi (TV turned movie actor Hasegawa) is that salaryman, working for a tech company that manufactures music equipment components.
Mocked by everyone in Tokyo (including TV commentators who seem able to look directly into his box apartment), Ryuichi’s lone ally is fellow office misfit, Yuko (a buttoned-down, adorable Aso).
Blind to Yuko’s affection, Ryuichi buys a turtle for companionship, naming him Pikadon after the Japanese name for the atomic blasts that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, constant mockery forces him to flush the reptile down the toilet, where it goes on its own adventure meeting a magical inventor (Nishida) and his living toys.
When the inventor accidentally gives Pikadon a wishing pill rather than a talking pill, it begins to make all Ryuichi’s wildest fantasies come true. But, at what cost to him and the rest of the city?
Like we said, Love and Peace retains the wildness of Sono’s other movies. But, the prolific director is a master at maintaining order in a three-ring circus. Multiple plot threads are running at any one time, the film beginning on a sugar rush and rarely letting the energy level dip.
Relatively low-fi in its SFX, the primitive puppet work in the inventor’s subterranean lair may shock audiences used to sophisticated animatronics. But, charm levels peak when three of the abandoned toys – a romantic doll, surly cat and toy robot – go on an adventure on Pikadon’s back through Tokyo’s shopping district. Seemingly filmed partly with hidden cameras, the fun is in watching reactions the bizarre spectacle draws.
Broad swipes are leveled at the J-pop scene and the fleeting, immediately replaceable fame at its centre. Japan’s tendency to throw things away is a constant thread throughout. The toys have all been discarded for the latest thing, Ryuichi discards his feelings for Yuko when the big time comes and even history seems to have been disposed of when a vox-pop with teenagers shows their amazement that America dropped the A-Bombs on Japan.
But, this is take-it-or-leave-it commentary. Love and Peace can be enjoyed merely as a heartwarming story about the power of dreams and friendship, set against the festive glow of Tokyo at Christmas. With a big monster stomping through it.
Lots to love, peace out!