Love and Peace

UK Release Date 11th July 2016
Director Sion Sono
Starring Hiroki Hasegawa, A singing turtle
Runtime 117 Miniutes
Certificate PG
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 10th July 2016

In Japanese legend the tortoise or turtle is called a minogame, a resolute, steadfast and wise creature. The minogame is always listening; completely in tune to the Buddha’s teachings and when it becomes a thousand years old it can speak in every human language. With their great age their shells conceal the enigmas of Heaven and Earth and trail behind them great swathes of water plants as they swim amongst shrines and temples whispering the Buddha’s wisdom to human beings who listen carefully enough.

In 2015 Japan Ryoichi Suzuki isn’t one of them. He’s a third-class loser despised and reviled by work colleagues, leered at on trains by high-school kids and hated by late night chat shows. One news anchor calls him, “A national disgrace” and it’s hard to disagree when Ryoichi wakes up in his apartment sprawled under his table like…a turtle. He’s a failed punk rocker who threw his toys out the pram when his first three concerts were complete washouts. Even automatic doors hate Ryoichi so much that they refuse to open for him.

Now he repairs electronic components for a musical instruments company under a barrage of constant abuse from every other employee except the nerdy Kumiko who shares his passion for music and looks like the lost daughter of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Ryoichi’s continuous torture is played out against the backdrop of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the 70th Anniversary of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan’s older citizens despair for the youth who don’t even know who dropped Little Man and Fat Boy on their relatives because the Americans are seen as friends. 

Ryoichi’s salvation comes in the form of a cheap turtle called Pikadon, ironically called after the nicknames given to atomic bombs by the Japanese. This miniature Kaiju quickly becomes Ryoichi’s best friend and confidant, breathing confidence and guidance into its ridiculous master. Pikadon is a reptile divining rod pointing to life opportunities for Ryoichi. They become inseparable until they are discovered by his work mates who vilify Ryoichi to the point that he is so ashamed of his friend that he flushes his aquatic wingman right down the karzi the hateful words, “Turtles are bad news” ringing in his ears.

Inconsolable after his toilet bowl betrayal of Pikadon, Ryoichi hits a new low. Any semblance of a turtle has him prone like Gregor Samsa crawling in the dirt, despised by the urban masses that jeer his every move. Meanwhile in the sewers Pikadon’s journey morphs into a Tim Burton fantasy complete with a Danny Elfmanesque score, so much so we half expect to meet The Penguin from Batman Returns. An underground sanctuary populated by disregarded toys and pets given the gift of live and speech by an affable old man welcome the errant turtle with open arms, wings and paws. Part Blade Runner workshop, part A.I. Artificial Intelligence set piece; these anamorphic denizens of the deep include Maria a heartbroken doll, Sulkie a cynical cat puppet and PC 300 a whiskey drinking robot.

Suffice to say in a Sion Sono movie anything goes and Pikadon’s magical enlightenment begins a symbiotic relationship with the distraught Ryoichi that gradually sees him climb the glittering ladder of pop stardom. This newfound fame is propelled by Pikadon’s song writing prowess inspired by Buddhist lessons. Japan is enthralled by Mad Ryo’s karaoke Bowie/Elvis combo and his anti-war protest songs but not as impressed by the sight of a Godzilla sized turtle crunching its way back into the arms of its loving friend. 

Love and Peace is a fraught, family fantasy that may be a reworking of the Japanese legend Urashima Tarō and is certainly Sion Sono’s 25-year passion project that channels his inner Spielberg. The tone shifts from the hysterical to the touching in a flash, a surreal morality tale of friendship with one of the most heart wrenching Christmas scenes recently filmed. Perhaps Sono is making amends for the buckets of blood he spilled in Cold Fish and Tokyo Tribe when Ryoichi, reunited with Pikadon announces, “The turtle is love and I am peace.” 

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