Originally released in 2015 back in Japan, Sion Sono’s fantastical dramedy Love & Peace has finally made its way to NYC thanks to the Japan Cuts festival. This genre mash-up is part musical, part kaiju film, part inspirational family film and all sorts of standard Sono craziness.
Office loser Ryoichi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is an odd character who is picked on by his peers. He dreams of being a rock star but allows fear to constantly get the better of him. One day during lunch he buys himself a turtle who manages to become his source of inspiration. Thanks to the turtle, named Pikadon (the Japanese description of the atomic bomb’s blast light), Ryoichi is soon propelled into stardom, taking the form Wild Ryo, a David Bowie-like rock star who quickly forgets who he was as soon as he is thrusted into the spotlight. With a bunch of passionate yelling, a drunk magic wielding old man, and some talking toys and animals thrown into the mix, Love & Peace is a crazy and colorful burst of Sono madness that’s likely to entertain you, for better or for worse.
Love & Peace is certainly Sion Sono magic. It’s laughable for how ridiculous it is, but because of his thematic use of passion, which appears in many of his films, you have to love it too. The film is consistently funny thanks to Hiroki Hasegawa, who reunites with Sono after their successful marriage with Why Don’t You Play in hell? In fact one of my favorite bits was the inclusion of the tooth paste song from that film, a nod to fans that have seen it. Like that film, Love & Peace is so over the top and aware that it’s doing it that the audience will let anything slide because no matter how crazy the film gets, you’re still entertained. It’s like a quality train wreck that you want to be a part of, not just watch.
While much of the film is upbeat, there is an entire subplot that focuses on toys that have been brought to life and animals that can talk. These are all beings that have been thrown away or abandoned and now live in the sewer with their new alcohol loving and magical father. The subplot focuses on an abandoned doll who wants to find her owner and leave the sewer. Metaphorically, I imagine this has to do with the forgotten troubles of the past that people should remember. The other aspect to this colony of chatty animals and toys is that it’s where Pikadon ends up, but the family there wants to see him grow so that he can help Ryo achieve all the success he can.
If I wasn’t told that the script was inspired by Japan’s history, I would never have understood all the undertones scattered throughout the film. Most of it has to do with the current generation and their lack of understanding/caring about Japan’s past, particularly in relation to the atomic bombing of two major cities. It’s deeply rooted in the story but I found that it’s easy for it to get lost in all the zaniness of the script.
Love & Peace is incredibly funny and stupidly entertaining. The acting is perfect for the likes of a fantastical Sono film such as this and, as usual, it’s a little too long which makes the boring portions move slowly. Furthermore, it’s the type of genre mash-up that could never be made here in the states which is why I have to recommend it to anyone who enjoys wild Japanese cinema or any of Sono’s previous comedic work. I honestly can’t tell if the movie was actually good or not, all I know is that I smiled and laughed way more than I thought I would, as did the entire crowd so, regardless of the zany story, this is an unexpected achievement for the imaginative Japanese director.