Decent Exposure

Steven Erickson on the New York Asian Film Festival

Left: Kanji Nakajima, The Clone Returns Home, 2008, still from a color film in 35 mm, 111 minutes. Right: Sion Sono, Love Exposure, 2008, still from a color film in 35 mm, 237 minutes.

ALTHOUGH THE NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL’S program notes are adamantly populist, the festival, now in its eighth year, has become most valuable as a showcase for maverick work like Jang Sun-woo’s Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002), a Taoist response to The Matrix (1999), and Kôji Wakamatsu’s New Left docudrama United Red Army (2007). Japanese director Kanji Nakajima’s The Clone Returns Home (2008) fails to strike the same sparks as the festival’s past, more inspired, sci-fi choices. Doggedly solemn, the film conflates gravity with depth, using slow pacing and an avoidance of close-ups to keep its charged subject matter—the emotional and spiritual ramifications of cloning—at a distance. Although beautifully photographed, Pang Ho-cheung’s Exodus (2007) squanders an intriguing premise about a misandrist conspiracy on increasingly unfocused storytelling. By contrast, Min Kyu-dong’s Antique (2008) is a breezy delight. Set in a cake shop, the film offers up homoerotic tension with a tale of kidnapping, telling a complex story with graceful cinematography.

Sion Sono hasn’t yet found the kind of cult following enjoyed by, say, Takashi Miike or Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but if he continues to make films as exciting as Love Exposure (2008), it’s only a matter of time. The nearly four-hour-long film focuses on a teenager who photographs women’s panties to please his father, a priest who constantly prods him to offer up sins for confession. At times, Love Exposure, which is told from the perspective of several characters, feels like an elaborate teen comedy, one with a keen satiric eye for fraught subjects like spirituality and sex. Until the genuinely moving finale, it comes across as a goofy—albeit bloody—lark. For the moment, the film’s length seems to have scared distributors away, but it could be Sono’s American breakthrough; the hours, anyway, pass surprisingly quickly.

The New York Asian Film Festival runs at the IFC Center June 19–July 2 and the Japan Society July 1–5. For more details, click here