by Byron Bixler
Part of our coverage of the 2015 Ithaca International Fantastic Film FestivalAs with nearly all Sion Sono films, Love & Peace defies classification. It’s a deeply weird and tonally bonkers odyssey with a narrative that strays all over the place, but somehow it works, and the result is one of the most wholly satisfying movies I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing this year.
Where to even begin with this one? An extremely awkward office clerk purchases a pet turtle on a whim and shares with it his dreams of becoming a superstar musician, believing that the animal will bring him luck. But things go sour when the clerk’s reptilian friend is discovered at his workplace. Humiliated, our underdog protagonist resorts to flushing the turtle down the toilet, regretting the decision immediately. The creature finds its way to a kind of subterranean “Island of Misfit Toys” presided over by a drunken old man, while his owner wallows in sorrow, eventually getting mixed up in a rock band by coincidence and rapidly rising to fame. What follows is a bizarrely endearing tale involving singing puppets, wicked scientists, magic candy, kaiju action and Santa Claus.
As you might be able to tell, Love & Peace is many things at once: Part family film, weepy romance, absurd comedy, Christmas movie, musical and fantasy flick. When it isn’t pulling laughs from its ridiculously eccentric sense of humor, the picture is pulling at your heartstrings with deliberately over-the-top melodrama.
There’s no reason why this film should work as well as it does. With so many disparate elements, it should be considered a small miracle that Sono is able to corral them all into a story that, by the end, proves to be far more coherent and carefully constructed than originally thought.
On the most basic level, the main character arcs and plot objectives of Love & Peace are quite simple and straightforward; familiar tropes that have been covered time and time again. However, the key here is Sono’s unbelievable knack for spinning small concepts out to fit a grandiose tale of unprecedented scope and ambition. No matter how silly or cartoonish it’s being at any given moment, the film is consistently engaging, as every aspect of the production explodes off the screen with a kind of artistically anarchic quality.
Few films manage to feel both clichéd and innovative at the same time without winding up as a mediocre mess of uncomplimentary parts. Sono’s latest will surely not please all viewers, as its strangeness may be too overwhelming, but for me, Love & Peace was extremely rewarding. Some kind of wild, unconventional masterpiece; hilarious, surreal and finally: moving.