Hana to hebi (1974)

Hana to hebi (1974)Synopsis: Shizuka (pink film starlet, Naomi Tani) is the aristocratic wife of Senzo Toyama, the president of a large company. Repulsed by her husband, she enlists her lifelong maid to act as a surrogate to appease his sexual desires. When the maid does not satisfy, Senzo often advances on Shizuka. After threatening to divorce him, Senzo orders his employee, Yoshi, to abduct his wife and train her in the ways of sexually submissiveness. Yoshi, who has been rendered impotent due to a childhood trauma, uses the opportunity to rid himself of his affliction. With the help of his domineering mother, the owner of an adult toy store and pornographer, they break Shizuka’s will and open her perception of pleasure to torture and humiliation.

Based on the novel by Oniroku Dan, this beautifully lensed film helped usher in the S&M Roman Porno genre in Japan and many numerous sequels and remakes. Flower And Snake 74′ (aka Hana To Hebi) was directed by Masaru Konuma (Wife To Be Sacrificed) and boasts an ultra-groovy score by Riichiro Manabe (Godzilla Vs. Megalon, Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster).

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Hana to hebi (1974) 7.0

eyelights: the unusual mix of drama and humour. the nudity.
eyesores: the all-too-real situation. the woman’s humiliation.

“Men are loveable”

I’m a HUGE fan of ‘Ai no korîda’, which is based on the story of Sada Abe. I’ve seen it a gazillion times and, because of it, I’ve also picked up the films ‘Jitsuroku Abe Sada‘ and ‘Sada: Gesaku · Abe Sada no shôgai’.

A few years ago, I discovered that another film, ‘Johnen: Sada no ai’, was made based on Sada Abe’s story. I tried my best to find a copy of it but couldn’t – not just in North America, where it wasn’t released, but even abroad. Intrigued by anyone who would make a film about Sada Abe, I decided to explore the filmography of the lead actress.

I discovered that she featured in a series called ‘Flower and Snake’, or ‘Hana to hebi’. The first was a remake of a 1974 BDSM-themed film, which I found unusual given the era it was made in. I wondered why that film was popular enough not just inspire a remake but an altogether new series. I was able to find a copy of the 2004 version and promptly watched it.

I wasn’t impressed. I found the situations uncomfortable to watch and didn’t think that it was any good anyway. Still, I was curious to find out what had inspired it, why ‘Hana to hebi’ was the minor classic that it is. Furthermore, I figured that, being a ’70s film, it would be less, um… challenging for the likes of me – so it should be more enjoyable.

…not that this would be hard to beat.

It turns out that the original ‘Hana to hebi’ is actually a relatively well-made film, for what it is. It’s the story of a man who, fearing that his spouse will leave him, conspires to have her kidnapped by one of his dopey employees, with the intention of submitting her to all sorts of sexual humiliation – the purpose of which is to render her submissive to his will and a more servile wife.

The employee, Yoshi, is the son of a former prostitute who now directs BDSM porn. Emasculated by his mother, he is incapable of having relations with women even though he’s now reaching the age of 30. He still lives at home, and his only true outlook is his work. So when his boss orders him to take his wife, he feels he has no choice but to relent. Soon, however, he falls for the trapped wife. And she falls for him in return.

It’s a disturbing idea to say the least, I know: As I was watching it, it occurred to me that this is exactly the kind of movie that someone deranged would watch and find credit in, not realizing that it’s meant as fantasy, not reality. I couldn’t help but think of all the crazies that have been unearthed in recent years, around the world, men who have kept women captive for years. Chilling.

I must admit that I didn’t expect this at all when I was getting started. And yet it didn’t shock me as much as one might expect: at this point, I’ve seen worse many times over (Thanks for nothing, Hollywood!). Actually, the remake was twisted in its own way, being about a man who puts his wife out to sexual servitude because he falls on hard times. Of course, she ends up being subjected to all sorts of depraved behaviour.

The original, however, is apparently notable for its place in Japanese film history: this helped usher in a series of films in a genre that is called “S&M Roman Porno” that helped save the Nikkatsu Corporation, Japan’s oldest major movie studio. While the studio had been on the make in recent years with its “pink” films, they were falling on hard times again and this hit saved them.

‘Hana to hebi’ is an unusual film. It’s not pornographic, but there’s plenty of nudity and its subject matter is such that it could offend a number of people: there are all sorts of nasty bits such as forced enemas, tons of rope bondage (requiring serious acrobatic skills from the lead!), captivity, rape, brainwashing, and so forth. It’s not for the faint of heart, or those unable to see this as fiction.

I was actually enjoying ‘Hana to hebi’ (despite it all) until Yoshi becomes a serial rapist. That was messed up, totally unacceptable. And to think that the wife falls in love with him after he violates her a second time, is just f-ing disgusting to me. There’s no way that I can accept this, not even in fiction, and especially not as fantasy. Add to that the degradation and the film was no laughing matter.

Speaking of which, the picture is peppered with strange humour here and there. I don’t know what the purpose was in mixing such nasty business with comedy but there was mild slapstick from time to time and the actors often reacted in comical ways. In some ways it kept things light and made it more palatable, as something that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but on the other it felt disrespectful given the sexual and psychological violence.

In the same way, when Yoshi first rapes the wife, we are treated to a backdrop of Doctor Zhivago-like music to embellish things. I wasn’t sure quite how to take that, because it was far too dreamy and romantic for a moment such as that one. Now, I understand that this is meant as some sort of fantasy, but blurring the lines like this doesn’t feel entirely right to me. Again, it seems out of place given the context.

Which leads me to wonder what the intention of ‘Hana to hebi’ was. It was based on a book, and it’s obviously supposed to be fantasy, but I wonder: was it irresponsible in the way that it treated the subject matter? Or was it entirely acceptable given that it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously? Personally, I don’t think that willful captivity and sexual and psychological torture are okay. Ever.

But maybe some people enjoy having their imagination stimulated that way, fantasies being what they are. And perhaps there’s a way to do it so that it’s not tasteless and irresponsible. I just don’t know that ‘Hana to hebi’ managed this. I’m just not sure where to draw the line. Anyway, despite all the nudity, which I enjoyed, it wasn’t at all titillating to me. But perhaps someone else would enjoy this more, really digging it for what it is.

Whatever that is.

Story: 7.0
Acting: 7.0
Production: 7.0

Sexiness: 2.0
Nudity: 7.0
Explicitness: 5.0

Date of viewing: June 20, 2013

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