Genre: Ludicrous BDSM Pornography Fantasy
review in one breath
When the lovely and pristine Shizuko is sold to the yakuza by her noodle-spined husband, she becomes the newest attraction in a bizarre and perverse sex show run for the fetishist pleasure of high-paying mask-wearing voyeurs. This film attempts to straddle the line between erotica and straight-out pornography by involving a well-known mainstream cast in an amazingly seedy and shocking narrative.
Oh. My. Goodness.
Ok, I'll admit I may have watched one or two (okay, three) Japanese porn flicks in my life (in all their pixilated glory). During that period of youthful indiscretion, I tended to gravitate toward the top-heavy smiling beauty who looked like she was having fun or the slightly more serious, raven femme with a world-wise glint in her eye. (Long story short, both these girls eventually shunned me and I too grew weary of their crappy acting and implausibly whiny orgasms.)
I confess all this simply to state that there were a ton of other films on that backroom video rack which I did not want to see nor had the slightest interest in seeing. It is a strange fact that the Japanese porn industry is literally brimming with truly warped and bizarre material, a great deal of it involving rape and bondage themes ranging from the obviously dramatized to the gut-wrenchingly real. I personally find this long-entrenched trend within Japanese male fantasy highly disturbing and nigh repulsive. And I have not yet been able to fathom why anyone would prefer a fantasy involving a frightened, resisting girl over one who is inviting and consensual.
And so perhaps I am not the best person to provide an objective review of the film Flower and Snake...
This film is based on the notorious multi-volume novel/manga of the same title (Hana to Hebi) by BDSM fetish-centric author Dan Oniroku. His work centers on the rape and bondage themes I alluded to earlier, ranging from contemporary scenarios to narratives involving Edo-era sexual fantasies. From even its initial appearance, Dan's Hana to Hebi gained a surprisingly widespread popularity to the extent that it is viewed by some as a "cult classic".
Since its publication, there have been three film adaptations entitled simply Hana to Hebi and another seven based on the work and using Hana to Hebi somewhere in the title. Of the three films sharing the same title, the first two, director Iwate Shintaro's 1965 film and Komua Masaru's 1974 remake, both fell squarely within the category of B-grade "roman porn". The current 2004 remake by director Ishii Takashi has widely distinguished itself from these others by casting many well-known mainstream talent and utilizing a highly stylized and professional cinematic style. Thus while the controversial and pornographic content remains the same (and is in fact the most explicit in his 2004 version), Ishii has successfully moved his film from the seedy backroom video shelves into the mainstream due to its respectable cast and production quality.
Director Ishii Takashi is no stranger to films and literature depicting rape. He is the author of the 1970's Angel Guts "rape/horror" manga which itself spawned five films, the fifth of which, Angel Guts: Red Dizziness (1988), Ishii himself directed as his directorial debut. A more recent, similarly themed film is his Freeze Me (2000), in which Ishii also introduces a revenge theme through which the female victim, in at least a very pathetic way, is depicted as regaining some of the control taken from her.
Ishii has also directed a sequel to the current film entitled Hana to Hebi 2 which was released in 2005. It utilizes several of the same cast as this prequel, including the lead actress/contortionist Sugimoto Aya.
The storyline revolves around the fate of Shizuko (Sugimoto Aya), the trophy wife of Tooyama Takayoshi (Nomura Hironobu) whose unethical business practices have made him vulnerable to the control of the elderly yakuza boss Ippei Tashiro (Ishibashi Renji). When Ippei catches a glimpse of Tooyama's beautiful wife, he orchestrates a blackmail scheme whereby Shizuko is inevitably sold to the yakuza.
Shizuko is then subjected to a variety of sexual tortures all conducted before a gawking audience of masked and robed males who have paid an exorbitant amount to attend such shows. The prior victim of the perverse entertainment had obviously died through the experience, and throughout her ordeal, Shizuko is threatened with her own death or the death of those she cares about. Her outrageous ordeals on stage, comprised of about a dozen different sexual tortures and a sailor's catalog of rope and knot variations, constitute the majority of this film's "storyline". Thus viewers of the film are treated as if they were one of the masked audience, voyeuristically experiencing (and presumably entertained by) one degrading scenario after another.
Finally, through sheer humiliation and exhaustion, her will is broken and she becomes the instrument of Ippei's intended fantasy.
At best, this is nicely packaged pornography and not much more. The content here (thankfully) does not descend into the grotesque or overtly violent, yet nevertheless this requires a certain fortitude to sit through, and I dare say a certain skewed worldview to enjoy. The emphasis here is thoroughly upon the domination and humiliation of women, though in the classically perverse Japanese fashion wherein the female is depicted as eventually arriving at euphoria.
This film seems quite intent on pushing the envelope as far as it possibly can under current Japanese censorship guidelines. There is no pixelation despite several visible plumes of pubic hair (historically a BIG no-no in any Japanese film) and Ishii's camera angles come remarkably close to "slipping" into censor territory. In Japan this film was given a rating of R-18, restricted viewing to those 18 and older. The recent Western release currently has no MPAA rating (NR) and thus will undoubtedly find its way into many unsuspecting households under the guise of "Oh look honey, a new Japanese Film!". But this is in fact far less of a "film" than it is "porno flick" and will carry very little value for anyone not wishing to see merely a series of scenes depicting classic Japanese BDSM fantasies.
For all the reasons listed above and many more I don't even care to articulate, I can't recommend this film. No, not even for the bOObie value.
I've also decided not to even worry about screenshots since anything I post would have been unsuitable for minors or office settings.
Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD available at all mainstream venues
|Based on a "popular" BDSM manga.||Some gun and knife violence (via yakuza). HUGE amounts of female brutality and humiliation.||Out of nearly two hours of sex scenes, only one scene depicts normal, consensual sex. I didn't consider most of these scenes "sexy", just nudity-filled.||Not a fun film to watch.|