Never before have I experienced a similar change in my opinion of a movie while watching it, than with “Love & Peace”. I found the first couple of minutes to be unwatchable and insufferable, and actually considered getting up and leaving. I sometimes have a hard time with japanese cinema, because it can be extremely over the top – thus, in its first couple of minutes, “Love & Peace” IMHO provided pretty much the worst that japanese cinema has to offer. Everything was so completely exaggerated, with Ryo Suzuki imagining that they make fun of him on TV, and the way he’s treated and laughed upon by his colleagues. Add to that his extreme reaction to the loss of Pikadon, with him breaking down and bursting into tears whenever he sees something that reminds him of the turtle afterwards, and me and “Love & Peace” didn’t exactly get off to a good start.
My reaction to the rest of the movie however proves my point that you should give every movie the chance to surprise you and win you over after all – something that “Love & Peace” made full use of. Because after that disastrous beginning, it turned around completely, and I ended up enjoying myself more and more. It all starts with Pikadon arriving at this weird place in the sewer where a mysterious old man gathers things that were thrown away, and brings them to life. After that, “Love & Peace” effortlessly switches between these two plotlines, and despite some shades of “Toy Story 3”, everything about the old man and the toys worked for me like a charm. There’s a sweetness to it that time and again is counterbalanced by melancholy and sadness (like the scene after the identity of the old man is finally revealed, and he sets off to give his fosterlings a new, better life – fearing, however, that he’ll inevitably see some of them again), which I found incredibly effective. Even before that, however, this plotline perfectly balances the funny and sweet with the dark, tragic and touching. Also, Pikadon was so incredibly cute that pretty much everybody – “Goodnight Mommy”-filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala included – made Pikadon-sounds afterwards. Overall, pretty much everything about the discarded things in the sewer was absolutely great.
I’m a little less enthusiastic about the plot revolving around Ryo Suzuki and his slow rise to fame. Its message, “fame corrupts”, is neither especially new, nor is it handled overly subtle. Like the beginning of the story, it’s all very exaggerated, with Ryo turning into a thankless asshole who’s far too full of himself far too quickly. Nevertheless, ultimately, his plotline also started to work for me, mostly because of the songs (which were all great, really catchy, and despite the fact that they get played repeatedly, never got tiring), the mood of the concert scenes, some great uses of an interesting interpretation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” (still one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created, and in this case, also working wonderfully on a meta-level, since the entire movie, in a way, is an Ode to Joy), and a couple of emotional moments thrown in for good measure. Ultimately, both plotlines collide in an uber-crazy finale that is such a hodgepodge of different tones and ideas that it probably shouldn’t work, but for whatever reason, it does. I especially liked the fact that “Love & Peace” essentially – and quite unexpectedly – turns into [MILD SPOILERS]a Kaiju-movie, with a couple of great quotes (“Love leaves destruction in its wake”) and brilliant ideas (like the scenes from Pikadon’s point of view, where he sees the buildings as cigarette boxes and the cars as something from “The Game of Life”)[/SPOILERS]. And I really loved the ending. With so many movies at this years /slash Filmfestival far overstaying their welcome, it was nice to get one that knows exactly when and where it should end.
Overall, after the less-than-stellar beginning, “Love & Peace” managed to win me over after all, and proved to be an incredibly sweet, charming, insane and touching piece of cinema that I can’t wait to see again. Alltogether now: “Love and Peace, omaewo, wasu rena-eee…”