Monday, September 21, 2015

Sweet Whip (2013)

AKA Sweet Obsession

Takashi Ishii’s adaptation of Oniroku Dan’s S&M novel Flower and Snake (2004) marked a kind of turning point in the Japanese maverick auteur’s cinematic career. While sadomasochism was clearly a topic that has always interested Ishii, with Flower and Snake S&M came to the forefront and for the majority of Ishii’s output ever since S&M has became a favored topic with each film becoming more obsessive and fetishistic and all the more fascinating as a result. This has naturally polarized audiences with many dismissing his recent output as overlong and indulgent. Ishii followed up Flower and Snake with a sequel which further explored the psychology behind sadomasochistic fantasies as well as the role S&M played in marriage. While Ishii’s next film, The Brutal Hopelessness of Love (2007) wasn’t specifically about S&M, the masochism of its main protagonist was ever apparent and was a major piece of the films psychological puzzle. In A Night in Nude: Salvation (2010), Ishii’s sequel to his A Night in Nude (1993), in what has gone on to become the films most notorious scene and a deal breaker for many viewers, a character repeatedly whips herself for an extended length of time. Much like Flower and Snake, for 2013’s Sweet Whip Ishii again turned to a book for source material and completely made it his own resulting in one of his most potent and potentially alienating sadomasochistic masterpieces yet.  

Naoko (Yuki Mamiya), a 17 year old high school student is kidnapped by her neighbor who has harbored a long obsession with her. For one month, Naoko is repeatedly raped and tortured before managing to kill her captor and escape. 14 years later, 31 year old Naoko (Mitsu Dan) is now a successful doctor specializing in fertility however she also has a hidden side, working nights as a professional slave in an S&M club under the name Serika. With the impending death of her terminally ill mother, Naoko’s painful memories of her ordeal as a teenager begin haunting her worse than ever and dangerously bleed into the fantasy scenarios at the S&M club.

Kei Ohishi's book which the film is based on.
Unquestionably Ishii’s darkest film to date, Sweet Whip (Amai Muchi, 甘い鞭) could be seen as the culmination of everything Ishii has explored in his output for the past decade. While the exploration of a damaged female psyche is something Ishii has returned to several times going all the way back to the Angel Guts series, never before has he taken it this far and in such bleak directions. What’s really astonishing is that despite how dark a film this is, and it really cannot be overstated just how grim it gets, Ishii has always taken the side of his female protagonists and Sweet Whip is no different ultimately making Ishii’s portrait of Naoko sensitive and sympathetic, yet Ishii’s handling of such material is still bound to infuriate a plethora of viewers. Ishii structures the film in an interesting way by having Naoko’s abuse as a teen detailed via flashbacks, constantly going back and forth between the past and present as well as utilizing voice over narration throughout the entire film. The more the film moves forward, the more Naoko’s narration reveals about her current mindset and the build-up to the films climax is nothing short of masterful with the flashbacks to Naoko’s final moments of captivity before her escape corresponding with the older Naoko at the S&M club. The violently surreal finale, where Ishii presents Naoko’s distorted viewpoint, along with the fragile beauty of Mitsu Dan and brilliant use of Brahms strike an emotional chord rivaled only by The Brutal Hopelessness of Love.

Its crucial to point out that never once does Ishii eroticize Naoko’s past torments, setting those scenes in a repulsive looking basement room and presenting her captor as the most pathetic creature imaginable. Its during the stylish scenes taking place at the S&M club where the older Naoko is willingly tied up and whipped does the film cross over into the erotic territory visually while the psychology behind those scenes and Naoko’s motivations are sure to draw the ire of overly sensitive knee-jerk reactionaries. What’s also worth noting is leading actress Mitsu Dan is currently one of the biggest celebrity sex symbols, or “idols” in Japan. It should be safe to assume that the number of western actresses with the same amount of fame as Dan that would be willing to take a role like this could be counted on one hand. Dan follows in the footsteps of Aya Sugimoto and Mai Kitajima, turning in a psychical performance that puts most other so called “brave” performances to shame. The same could be said for Yuki Mamiya, Dan’s 17 year old counterpart in the film and another “idol” who goes through hell for the film. The fact that there are mavericks like Ishii still making audacious and uncompromising films like Sweet Whip and performers like Dan taking on roles like this is a good enough reason not to completely give up on modern cinema.

1 comment:

  1. I want to see this so badly. Is it out anywhere on DVD?

    Excellent autopsy of the film.

    Ishii speaks my truth.