We didn't know it we were in for a 237 minute marathon when we sat down to watch Shion Sono's would-be epic. However many expectations you bring to this, they will tend to be confounded, of this we are now sure.
Our attention wandered at times, but then so did the director's. For the first hour (Chapter One, as it turns out) we thought we were watching a deliciously irreverent tale about a young Catholic boy in Tokyo called Yu, whose mother succumbs to terminal illness, prompting his father to join the priesthood.
The pair lead a fairly normal family life until dad takes up with a loose woman. Externalising his issues of conscience onto Yu, the conflicted man of God insists that his son attends confession on a daily basis. Realising that his father needs constant reminders of his offspring's sinfulness, at first Yu starts to dream up minor pecados like stepping on ants and ripping up a classmate's eraser. But soon his father is onto him and nothing less than real sins will do...
Yu then joins the local gang of wasters who are into shoplifting and petty thuggery. Every day Yu returns home to confess the day's misdeeds and every day the priest forgives him without hesitation. What you need, one of Yu's new mates suggests, is one of those really 'obscene' sins that priests get really worked up about.
And so Yu is taken to 'the master' to learn the Kung Fu art of taking secret underskirt panty pics and the mood of gentle comedy cedes to something altogether more outrageous. From this moment onwards the film is equally earnest in its deadly seriousness and deadly silliness, taking in secret cults, Hentai ('pervert') subculture, family melodrama and samurai sword fights with arterial sprays.
Two man-hating teenage girls take a hold of Yu's life. One of them cut off her father's penis (more spray) and in the other Yu believes he has found his 'Maria', the pure woman he promised his dying mother he would one day locate and introduce to her. Somewhere underneath all the other stuff Yu and Yoko's sweet love story takes shape.
I couldn't say that you'll learn something new about the human condition or even the Japanese condition from Ai No Mukidashi, but there's an ambiguity underlying its treatment of all this bizarreness that makes it interesting as well as entertaining.
Grade: A --