Monday, August 24, 2015

Flower and Snake II (2005)

The history of the Flower and Snake films can be a bit convoluted when it comes to films considered “official” adaptations or films which were simply loosely inspired by Oniroku Dan’s original S&M novel. By far the most well known and critically regarded film based on Dan’s book is the 1974 Nikkatsu version starting Naomi Tani, however the 60’s saw its fair share of “Flower and Snake” films, some of which even had  Tani and Dan’s involvement like Flower and Snake Continued: Red Torture (1968) and Flower and Snake: Rearing the Flesh (1968). Of course the 1974 film also inspired a series of follow-up’s such as Sketch of Hell (1985), White Uniform Rope Slave (1986) and Final Rope Torture (1987). Not that Takashi Ishii could ever be accused of following tradition, but it only made sense that he follow his 2004 interpretation of the novel with a sequel. Ishii’s take on the material shattered several of Japan’s taboo’s when it comes to film censorship and having a lead actress like Aya Sugimoto in such a role caused a bit of a stir but the films notoriety wasn’t for naught as its blew all other vitiations on the story out of the water. Flower and Snake II saw Ishii once again craft a film more than worthy of standing alongside the first as well as go above and beyond the expectations of its genre.

Following the death of Oikawa, a famous painter, Takayoshi Toyama, a renowned art critic and confidant of Oikawa receives a CD featuring several S&M based paintings by Oikawa never before seen by the public. Thinking the paintings would go for good prices on the black market, Toyama sends his much younger wife Shizuko (Aya Sugimoto) to Paris to commission Ryoosuke Ikegami, a young painter whom Toyama once sponsored to recreate the paintings. Ikegami agrees on the condition that Shizuko be his model. Reluctant at first, Shizuko agrees and becomes not only Ikegami’s muse but his lover as well, revealing a hidden side of herself as she becomes more acquainted with the underground world of sadomasochism.  

Flower and Snake II (Hana to hebi 2, 花と蛇2 パリ/静子) does what any proper sequel should do which is retain the spirit of the original film (even carrying over the names Toyama and Shizuko) while bringing something new to the table. While a fairly good psychological portion of the first film dealt with hidden sadomasochistic desires and the bonds of marriage, here that seems to be Ishii’s main concern as its those ideas which come to the forefront with some voyeurism thrown into the mix as well. Its a well detailed story and although some of the intricacies of the plot may take more than one viewing to fully reveal themselves, Ishii takes the film full circle with a clever and fairly twisted romantic twist. Stylistically the film differs from the first in that it feels much more rougher, featuring lots of hand held camera work, at times feeling almost Lars von Trier-esque as opposed to the refined composition of the first film. That’s not to say the film is lacking in the visual department. On the contrary, Ishii creates several (appropriately) painterly sequences, the centerpiece of the film being a jaw dropping auction scene where Sugimoto reenacts the S&M scenarios in the paintings and a fantasy sequence early in the film recalls the sadistic phantasmagoria of the first film. Sugimoto once again goes above and beyond the call of duty in terms of physical performance, throwing herself into the role with abandon proving just how admirable and dedicated a performer she is.

Naturally there was to be another sequel five years later with Flower and Snake 3 (2010) which was in turn followed by Flower and Snake: Zero (2014). Before those films however there was incredibly although not unsurprisingly an anime version entitled Flower and Snake: The Animation (2006). Unfortunately neither of the two live action films were directed by Ishii nor did any feature Sugimoto. This film also marked their last collaboration which is a shame as they made for the perfect director/muse pairing with Sugimoto willing to follow Ishii down any fetishistic rabbit role. Its funny to think that when Ishii’s first film was made Oniroku Dan was unsure about Sugimoto playing the lead due to the films content which amazingly proved to be too strong even for Dan! Sugimoto has gone on recording saying she chased the role and as long as Ishii was the director she would do anything for it. The results in both films speak for themselves. Sugimoto has had quite the interesting career from being a model, J-Pop singer, actress, and writer. Hopefully another film with Ishii will happen at some point down the road. While Flower and Snake II is a good enough film to stand on its own, when paired with Ishii’s first film, both stand as examples of what’s possible with material that has been filmed several times before with the right artist behind it.

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