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.|
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.