Takashi Ishii's original Flower And Snake was an interesting realization of a psycho-sexual-surrealist nightmare come to life. His follow up film ups the ante a bit in terms of explicitness but doesn't prove to be quite as engrossing a story as the entry that preceded it. Regardless, it's still and interesting and fairly compelling film with some truly deranged set pieces and plenty of steamy faux-copulation.
The story revolves around an older man named Takayoshi (Jo Shishido) and his younger, extremely potent wife, Shizuko (Aya Sugimoto). Takayoshi, because of his age, isn't able to satisfy his wife the way he knows she wants him to and so he decides that in addition to the S&M play they've been toying around with, he should further expand their horizons by bringing a third party into the scene. Enter a younger male artist (Kenichi Endo) who specializes in kinky rope play and bondage. He's hired by the wealthy older man to create the scenarios for his wife that he is only able to think about. Takayoshi has got some pretty twisted ideas in store and the painter gives life to each and every one of them despite some initial protesting from Shizuko. Eventually, however, she comes to appreciate the rougher side of things and eventually her submissive ways take over and she gives herself to a strange underground group who use her as their plaything.
As exploitative and explicit as the film is, it also has a tender side to it. Takayoshi and Shizuko really are quite in love with one another and this point is made very clear early on in the film. While Takayoshi obviously gets off on seeing Shizuko hurt, he also wants to see her receive pleasure from what happens to her. Not a normal dynamic, in fact it's quite a twisted one, but it is not without its more romantic side, however skewed your vision might have to be in order to appreciate it. It's this unusual dynamic that makes Flower And Snake II work, thanks to strong performances from Jo Shishido and particularly Aya Sugimoto. Shishido has been good in films like Bands Vs. Samurai Squadron and in Battles Without Honor and Humanity 4 but here he really excels, bringing a strange sense of sadness to his part but not holding back when it's time for his character to get into things either. As such, he plays Takayoshi as a very conflicted individual, and it works. Aya Sugimoto, however, is the real reason to watch this film as she completely gives herself over to the script. She was good in the first Flower And Snake but she's even better here and she shows absolutely no fear whatsoever when tackling content that would make other actresses shy away from the role. Kenichi Endo, as the painter, is also quite good and he shows resolve and determination here that makes his performance much more believable than it would be had he shown us a softer side.
So while the performances are as good if not better than the first movie, sadly the story is not. That's not to say it's bad, because it isn't, it just isn't as intense despite the fact that this is a noticeably more graphic film (which is saying something when comparing it to the first entry). The problem here is that we know from what Ishii has shown us before where this is all going and as such there isn't really much of a surprise or much suspense. We know that things are going to go too far from the get go, and while the film does come to a satisfactory conclusion, without the suspense it just isn't as interesting as it should have been. Even with that said, there are still a lot of interesting subtleties to the storyline and plenty of bizarre religious symbolism and odd ball metaphors to digest. The film is a multi layered one and there's certainly more to it than what lies on the surface. It's almost as if Ishii is making the audience question why we're watching the movie. As Shizuko gives herself over we, as voyeuristic spectators (the camera certainly sets things up for us in this regard), go along with her. We're in the action, so to speak, and we're just as guilty as any of the characters in front of the camera. As such, the film has an interesting conscience in that it does make us question things and wonder to ourselves 'how much is too much?'
Tokyo Shock presents the film in an anamorphic 1.69.1 widescreen transfer and for the most part things look quite good on this DVD. There is some softness in a few scenes but this looks to have more to do with the way that the scenes in question were shot and lit rather than the way that the disc was authored. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. Some mild shimmering is easy to spot but the picture is consistently clean and clear and there aren't any major problems with it to report – in fact, it looks very good.
The sound on the disc is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in its native Japanese language with optional English subtitles. As with the video, there are no serious problems to report here. There are a few scenes where the dialogue sounds just a tiny bit low in the mix but it's never a problem, you can always hear everything that you're supposed to hear. The score used throughout the movie, which is quite haunting in its own odd way, sounds nice and clear and there are no problems at all with hiss or distortion.
Three featurettes serve as the main attractions as far as the bonus features on this release are concerned, the first of which is a making of documentary that runs for roughly fifteen minutes in length. It isn't as comprehensive as it should have been but it does give us a look at how some of the more intense scenes were shot and staged and what went into getting the very specific look that Ishii wanted for the movie onto the big screen. Interestingly enough, it's got a bunch of deleted scenes worked into its running time. While these don't change the film much at all, they're interesting to see.
The second featurette is a fifteen minutes worth of footage from the question and answer session that the cast members gave at the movie's theatrical premiere in Japan. It's fairly standard stuff, with everyone talking about how great it was to work with one another, but there are some interesting stories here. The one common compliment that everyone seems to have is that Aya Sugimoto is one gutsy woman and that she really did give her all and in a sense bares her soul with her performance in this movie.
Promotion is a thirty three minute featurette that mixes in some rough footage of the feature with some behind the scenes material. This is called a 'digest version' on the back of the box and it's essentially a rough half hour version of the feature movie. Tacked on to the end of this featurette are three trailers for the film. They're not available to watch on their own, but they are there if you look for them.
Rounding out the extra features is a decent still gallery of promotional stills from the feature, animated menus and chapter stops.
Takashi Ishii's Flower And Snake II is a dark, twisted and surprisingly clever work of horrifying eroticism. It's not a perfect film but it is a very interesting one although those who know and appreciate the themes that Takashi Ishii's films tend to deal with will likely take more away from it than others. Media Blasters has done a fine job on the disc with a solid transfer and strong audio. The extras won't blow you away but they're there and worth checking out once. Consider this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.