Takashi Ishii takes the situation that he's presented with in this story to its ultimate extreme. This tendency has led to his underappreciated status as a controversial director, fusing flesh and blood with intellectual subversion and symbolic magnificence. While some of his work is harmed by slip shod storytelling values and a rushed approach, marred more often than not by a surreal POV that exists seemingly for its own sake instead of the value of the narrative, even his failings display more skill than his contemporaries. Celebrated and reviled for his fetishistic devotion to subversive themes, he brings to the psychosexual excesses of Flower & Snake (2) an intense devotion to bizarre imagery and subjective perception. A shocking yet tender -- even lyrical -- poem to love and perversity, this frank, elegant examination of sexual kink and liberation reveals a director devoted to charting the thematic byways between sexual gratification and a woman whose inner needs and love for her husband encourages her to enjoy the freedom found in bondage.
Finding beauty in brutality, and power in submission, Flower & Snake (2) is a continuation of the sexual/psycho themes of flesh and mind that the director established early in his career. At once both uncomfortable and titillating, the actions his characters take -- and the internal yearnings and hungers that prompt them into action -- ask viewers to face their own sexual identity. Like the husband whose ineptness and voyeuristic mind-frame makes him enjoy the sadomasochistic performance of his wife with other men, we too occupy a position of 'spying' -- an act that, if we enjoy it, says as much about us, perhaps, as the on screen sex suggests about the needs of characters. And, my, what a fun, juicy, wet and hot ride this is -- showing once again why erotic (artful smut!) holds its own against pornography, feeding the mind as well as the senses. This episodic plot follows the sexually alluring Shizuko (Aya Sugimoto) and her husband Takayoshi (Jo Shishido) in their developing sadomasochistic relationship. Joined in a loving, emotionally sincere marriage, these two are unsatisfied sexually. Husband Takayoshi is unable to sexually please his lovely wife, and in order to bring them both more excitement, they agree to spice things up a bit. This includes asking a painter skilled in the arts of bondage and S&M to give physical life to the husband's desire. Hubby wants to see his wife used and enslaved, and her gradual acceptance of such experiences is the major meat of the story. Shiziko becomes a willing adherent to this subversive lifestyle, giving herself to both hubby and rich, decadent strangers.
A love letter to the ambiguous nature of emotional and sexual love, Flower and Snake (2) is at once both softcore exploitation and a serious drama of social conscience, following a couple's descent into an open relationship that juxtaposes pleasure and pain, cheating and faith, dominance and submission. Startlingly beautiful in its voyeuristic approach to sexual transgression, the film is just as poetic as it is shocking in its rush of scandalous imagery. Who these character are, their motivations, and what they want is just as important as what they do, or allow to be done to each other. A cinematic sexual explorer discarding rigidly outdated codes of acceptable behaviour, Ishii challenges both his own culture and the rigid morality of the West. He also defies the conventional structure of film, opting to direct his pessimistic puzzles according to their emotional energy -- operating on a surrealist-like dream logic of expressionism rather than enslaving himself to logic. In fact, the strongest reference point to logic is anchored in pure animal experience -- the need to be taken and submit, the need to ravage and own, and the need to watch (as we all do) are both celebrated and mocked, with the director never taking a firm moral stance one way or another. This isn't a movie about moral stances, right or wrong -- it is simply, joyfully, the act of watching extremes of passion and lust unfold. The characters are driven and defined by their hungers, and watching Shizuko's development from dutiful, loving wife to willing slave desiring defilement and sexual oppression is hot, erotic stuff! The implications and complications deriving from this journey, as well as from the tangled relationships of Shizuko and her partners, her ineffectual husband and their painter friend, provide as much intellectual erotica and drama as the countless sensual acts of bandage and sex challenge the eyes. A feast for the senses, Flower and Snake (2) is both a threat and a promise of unbound human sexuality when it is allowed to go wherever the animals inside us is allowed free reign.
The sensual pleasures -- the writhing, battered, fondled flesh of Shiziko in her S&M throes -- is captured in a dream-like, luscious light by this clean, near flawless transfer. The lighting is served well by a print free of grain or splotching, and the colors are bold and sensual. The skin tones are believable and natural, inviting our admiration and lust as the action unfolds in 1.69:1 anamorphic widescreen. The audio options bring the sensuality to our ears in Japanese Dolby Digital, with English subtitles. These convey the dialogue with admirable simplicity, allowing us to savor the moans and cries surrounding the language. Extras are not as bountiful as they could be, but Deleted Scenes are interesting to view (though wisely left out, in no way advancing the story). The Premiere is a typical, obligatory bit of fluff dedicated to publicity (though fun to goof around with), and the Image Gallery provides some tasteful images of key scenes. The Making of Flower and Snake, while in no way comprehensive, is a further chance to indulge in the erotic world of Takashi Ishii's world, and as such, is a pleasant stay.
Review by William P. Simmons
|Released by Tokyo Shock|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|