Love and Peace (2015)
Director: Shion Sono
written by Tron Delapp
I’ve been a fan of Shion Sono’s work since I first tripped over Suicide Club on video back in 2001. Sono’s fresh vision combined with the sheer diversity in the projects he works on keeps me coming back to see what he has hidden up his sleeve. From his J-Horror parody Exte: Hair Extensions (2007), which was actually scarier than 85% of the J-Horror done at the time to his 4 hour upskirt photography opus Love Exposure (2008); from his 2010 serial killer effort Cold Fish to 2013’s exploration of filmmaking and friendship Why Don’t You Play In Hell? to the best film of 2014, his hip-hop gangs vs. Yakuza musical Tokyo Tribe, Sono has produced some of the most innovative and distinct cinema in recent memory, combining various themes and societal messages with some of the most bizarre and outré situations that make his films a true joy to watch and even harder to review because the whole is worth way more than the sum of its parts. Such is the case for Love and Peace, his newest picture to hit Stateside. Love and Peace is at once a story about lonely and lost people as well as a tale about working toward your dreams while at once being an epic fantasy involving lost toys, forgetting things you love, putting your past behind you, not forgetting where you came from, the bond between man and turtle and, of course, Peace and Love. It’s also a Christmas movie. Yes, a Christmas movie. This proves once again that Shion Sono has a hard time doing anything without looking ‘outside the box,’ much to his credit and the delight of cinema fans everywhere.
Love and Peace begins with real-life politics, which Sono is not shy about threading through the narrative of his films. This time, it’s about Tokyo’s 2020 bid for the Olympics, which the television panel is divided about. Will the Olympics make Japan great again or does sport even unite like it used to and will it be good for urban renewal? Things take an immediate turn when we’re introduced to Ryoichi Suzuki, the man watching the television as the panel of pundits start running Ryoichi down, referring him to a loser who had dreams of being a rock star that faded when no one showed up to his 3 performances and now works as a simple clerk. Of course, Ryoichi in this instance becomes a microcosm of modern Japan but lest you think it degenerates into a political manifesto, think again; it just lays the groundwork for his character and gently hints that there is more going on than the personal story which is about to unfold. Ryoichi is singly alone; his television mocks him, people stare at him on the subway, his co-workers affectionately refer to him as ‘loser’ and he seems to be having a mid-life crisis stemming from his extremely low opinion of himself. The only thing close to a friend he has is a mousy co-worker named Yuko Terashima whom he desperately likes but is held back by his own self-worth from even talking to her.
Things begin to look up when he acquires a pet turtle from a street vendor whom he names Pikadon, which means “flash boom,” referring to the Atomic Bomb. He shares his dreams of rock stardom with his turtle while playing the game of Life and lavishes it with love until one day it’s discovered with him at work. After suffering more humiliation from his co-workers and boss, he with great sadness flushes the turtle down the toilet, returning to his singular life of regret and lost dreams. Pikadon, on the other hand, survives his watery descent and ends up in Lost and found Heaven, where discarded toys and pets end up when their owners don’t want them anymore. He is taken under the wing of the human Pa, who lives in the sewers taking care of all the discarded toys and pets and meets many new friends like Sulkie the bad attitude cat, Maria the doll and PC the tiny robot. Pa, who is far more than he seems, makes magic candy which enables the toys and pets to talk but while administering Pikadon a dose accidentally gives him wish candy instead which enables Pikadon not to talk but to help Ryoichi achieve his dream of rock stardom as well as growing to a larger size.
Meanwhile, a depressed Ryoichi breaks down every time he sees a turtle which puts him in contact with a band called Revolution Q who are amused by his pitiful state and basically kidnap him, dragging him to a public gig they have as comedy relief. They allow him to sing a song, which turns out to be a tribute song to his lost turtle friend, and it becomes a huge hit, so much so that he and Revolution Q are signed immediately to a major label who believe him to be singing about the A-Bomb and cast him as a modern day protest singer due to his relevance to modern issues in Japan. Thus, Ryoichi begins to achieve his dream of rock stardom and even finds the courage to quit his job and ask Yuka Terashima out. Pikadon, meanwhile, becomes much happier and much bigger to the delight of Pa and the toys. The toys and pets have a wish also, to be reunited with the loved ones that cast them out and Pa reassures them that by the end of the year, he would make sure they were in a better place. Pikadon wants to help Ryoichi now and leaves the sewer several times to meet Ryoichi and help him create new songs by giving him the melody and inspiring his lyrics by knocking over stacks of books so the titles reveal the next hit for Ryoichi.
Of course, Ryoichi becomes swept up in his new fame, leaving Yuka cold, disbanding Revolution Q and embarking on his own solo career. Ryoichi definitely forgets where he came from, even though his agent recreated his old bedroom in his new apartment. He never forgets Pikadon, however, who returns occasionally to help him become even bigger. On one trip, Maria, PC and Sulkie accompany him to visit Ryoichi and learn some very hard lessons about old toys and pets who were once loved and how quickly they’re forgotten. Pikadon also manages to get taken by scientists who cannot understand the turtle’s mutation and are determined to find out at any cost. With Ryoichi’s Christmas solo concert fast approaching, will he be able to dazzle the crowd with another new song? Will Pikadon be dissected or will he be able to continue to help his former owner? Is Yuka destined to be forgotten by Ryoichi? Will Pa be able to return the lost toys and pets to their former owners or someplace new like he promised or were they false words of hope? Will Ryoichi ever remember who he was and find balance within himself? Shion Sono answers these questions and many more as Love and Peace strides boldly forward to it denouement, all the while creating a heartwarming picture that definitely lives up to – and embodies- the title of the film.
Love and Peace is a truly magical film that has so much spirit and reality tied up in its very comedic, fantasy-driven approach that it’s virtually impossible to not like this movie. It’s tremendously well-acted, beautifully shot and has a unique warmth about it that is so unlike most other films. In the hands of anybody else, Love and Peace would degenerate into a message-driven narrative but in the hands of Shion Sono, who has a complete understanding of disaffected and misfit people, the film transcends the reality of its subject matter and becomes a pure work of art that is at once highly enjoyable as a movie as well as standing on its own as an exploration of friendship, loneliness, loss, acceptance and remembering who you are while you strive to be who you want to be. Shion Sono continues to be one of the most brilliant and innovative filmmakers working in cinema today and Love and Peace fits his body of work to a ‘T.’ Once again, Sono turns out one of the best films I’ve seen since Tokyo Tribe and of course earns my Highest Recommendation.