Love and Peace is the twenty-ninth feature film from eclectic Japanese writer/director Sion Sono, the man behind cult escapades like Love Exposure, Cold Fish, and Tokyo Tribe.
Love and Peace follows gurning wimp Ryoichi (Hiroki Hasegawa), an introverted office worker with dreams of making it as a rock star star, dreams he confesses to his new best friend, a tiny turtle called Pikadon. After flushing Pikadon down the toilet in a fit of anguish, he finds his dreams begin to come true, since the animal has become part of an underground family of discarded animals and toys, granted life and voice by a lovable magic hobo (Toshiyuki Nishida).
This is a surprisingly family-friendly film for Sono, who’s past ventures have delved into issues as diverse as voyeurism, domestic abuse, and mental illness with equal measures of brutal honesty and glee. Many of his films embrace gore and sadistic violence though never to the extremes of fellow countryman Takashi Miike, who Sono is often compared to in terms of break-neck productivity. Sono’s brand of joyous genre hybridity is one of his strongest features, allowing him to celebrate the barmyness of his own vision in just about every style, sensibility, and humour you can think.
Love and Peace opens with a televised debate about Tokyo’s hosting of the 2020 Olympics, in true Sono style, the debaters are side-tracked by their mutual distaste for Ryoichi and begin berating him through the TV. From that moment on, we are aware that this world is one where people are hyper cruel and the lead is the butt of the joke, mocked wherever he goes by strangers and co-workers alike. This could be dismissed as the product of a deranged mind, but then we’re in the sewers being accosted by a wealth of talking animals and toys, Sono’s stringent dismissal of the “real world” translated into a bold and frankly heart-warming scene the likes of which he’s never quite done before. This is a magical and buoyant film, determined to make you smile. And so it does.
As with all Sono films, Love and Peace is still a very vocal film, condemning the process by which well-meaning sincerity is high-jacked and turned for profit. In that same way, it’s a film entirely about capitalism, the processes by which it works and the effects of its stranglehold on culture, except in a way that people of all ages can understand and embrace.
As usual the sets are great, splitting time between the streets of Tokyo, a cluttered living space, and Pa’s gorgeously decrepit sewer lair, which feels like something out of a Roald Dahl story. Kiyotaka Taguchi deserves serious commendation for the practical effects because everything here has a tangibility startlingly lacking in many other films. That tangibility really helps you invest in the family of broken robots, abandoned animals, and junked dolls. Even his big “Godzilla” finale (Taguchi tellingly worked special effects on Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack) doesn’t become a CGI laden affair, instead sticking to its guns with miniatures and evoking a frankly joyous monster finale that serves as the perfect punchline to a well-rounded family musical fantasy.
As fantastical and pleasant as Sono can probably muster, Love and Peace is a film brimming with colour and energy, an infectiously enjoyable Japanese take on Babe: Pig in the City with Sono’s trademark madcap vibrancy.
Dir. Sion Sono
Stars: Hiroki Hasegawa, Kumiko Aso, Motoki Fukami, Toshiyuki Nishida