Love And Peace

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Love And Peace
"It's visually stunning, endlessly creative, and it doesn't fail to deliver on the kaiju promise, even if the stomping scenes are also metaphorical."

Every now and again, a film comes along that is a true original. More often than not, it's from Japan. Yes, there are elements in Love And Peace that we've seen before - it's a rock n' roll odyssey, it's a kaiju film, it's a Christmas film - but they blend in a manner that's entirely unique. What's more, though it comes from a director famous for gore, it's a film for viewers of all ages.

Ryoichi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is one of life's victims. Everybody picks on him at work. Strangers point and laugh at him in the street. Even the television gets personal, telling him he's a failure. Once upon a time, long ago, he was in a band, and he still dreams of rock n' roll stardom, but the dream seems very far away. Perhaps more realistic is his dream of dating co-worker Yuko (Kumiko Asô). After all, she does say good morning to him, gives him medication for his ailing gut, and considerately removes a sticker marked 'hazardous waste' from his back. In a rare good mood because of this, he buys a turtle from a street vendor and names it Pikadon.

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Things between Ryoichi and Pikadon do not go smoothly. Though they quickly come to adore one another, Pikadon's presence leads to Ryoichi being bullied even more, to the point where he cracks and flushes his new friend down the toilet. It's a decision he instantly regrets, and one that will have younger viewers in tears. But turtles are lucky in Japan, and Pikadon, drifting through the sewers, stumbles upon the mysterious Pa (Toshiyuki Nishida), an eccentric man who cares for abandoned pets and toys. Meaning to give him the power of speech, Pa accidentally gives him the power to make wishes come true. Pikadon loves Ryoichi so much that he propels him to stardom, but each time he uses his power he gets bigger - soon the sewer will no longer be able to contain him.

There's an awful lot of plot packed into this two hour film, despite some slower scenes in the middle when it's concentrating on building character. Hasegawa makes a vivid impression from the start and carries Ryoichi through a striking transformation from sympathetic (albeit socially clueless) loser to optimistic social climber to arrogant rock god, changing every detail of the way he looks and carries himself along the way. Pa warns us early on that humans can become very greedy when they start to get what they want, and Ryoichi becomes increasingly unpleasant to be around - something which is particularly tough on Yuko - but despite his exploitation of Pikadon, there's something about the innocent turtle's devotion that might just retain the power to redeem him.

Pa, meanwhile, remains an elusive character, part miracle worker and part sewer-dwelling JF Sebastian, handing out magical 'candy' to his dependents in a manner reminiscent of Willy Wonka or Jim Jones. It's hard to know how far we should trust him. Battered doll Maria and toy cat Sulkie have lost faith; like the others, they have been sustained by his hints that they will one day be reunited with their owners, but now they think he's just saying it to keep them quiet. Only the delightfully animated turtle seems utterly certain of his destiny.

Tonally, Love And Peace swings from dark slapstick comedy to enchanting fairy tale and from biting satire to romance, but bizarre as it may be, there's a consistent logical thread running throughout, enabling those willing to engage with its dreamlike structure to suspend disbelief. It's visually stunning, endlessly creative, and it doesn't fail to deliver on the kaiju promise, even if the stomping scenes are also metaphorical. If you're not a fan of quirky humour or surrealist cinema, this won't reach you at all, but if you are, prepare yourself for a treat.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2016
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Punk rock, magical turtles and underground sewer communities.


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