Flatpack Film Festival – Love & Peace – Review ****

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You may know Japanese director Sion Sono from the cult horror circuit, where he made a name for himself with Suicide Club (2001) and Love Exposure (2008). And if you know him, his new comedy/drama/musical/fantasy film will catch you off guard. Though still dark and weird, Love and Peace is more of a family film than a gore-fest. But if you don’t know Sono, and came to see this with no expectations whatsoever – prepare yourself to be amazed.

Ryoichi (Hiroki Hasegawa) dreamed of being a rock star, but as years went by he ended as an overly shy office worker at a company that makes musical instrument pieces. Living in a small apartment, bullied by all his co-workers (except Kumiko Aso, on whom he has a crush), Ryoichi’s life is far from perfect, until the day he buys a small turtle at a sale on the rooftop of a department store. Pikadon (as he names the turtle, after the A-bombs that destroyed Tokyo) becomes his greatest confident, and Ryoichi shares all his dreams and aspirations with his new pet. Until one day his boss finds the turtle in his pocket, and Ryoichi, in a panic attack, flushes Pikadon down the toilet. Consumed with regret, he stumbles upon a band, Revolution Q, that decides to make fun of him, while Pikadon, deep in the sewers, is rescued by a mysterious figure, Pa (Toshiyuki Nishida), who lives surrounded by abandoned pets, toys and produces magic pills…

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This love story between a Man and his Pet Turtle won the audience award for Best Asian Feature at the Fantasia Film Festival and it’s easy to see why. With a Godzilla meets Aladdin twist, plus a Citizen Kane wink, Love and Peace is strangely heartwarming, despite its budget limitations and poor CGI (or maybe exactly because of it). Hasegawa’s over the top acting, first as the extremely awkward Ryoichi and then as super confident Wild Ryu feels completely in place with the talking dolls and giant turtles. The genius of Sono’s script, however, is in the character of Pa  – we know from the beginning that this drunk, homeless and dirty man is hiding some dark secret, and yet, at the last minute, Sono’s smashes our expectations and gives us not the dark resolution we could guess, but a Spielbergian whiff of cosiness.

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With cinematography that owes more to the extreme Korean tradition than to the stylized Japanese one, Love and Peace is a bittersweet, dark and warm ugly duckling story, that reflects on the extremes of fame and the capitalist approach to goods and pets. You will reach the end thanking the gods that your pets can’t talk (or grow to city destroying sizes), and then, you may as well marathon the rest of Sono’s works – originality of this caliber is a rare instance in modern world cinema.

Love & Peace played at the Flatpack Film Festival on 24th April 2016.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.