Flowers of Evil (惡の華, Noboru Iguchi, 2019)

Small-town ennui is something familiar to many who’ve found themselves feeling somewhat out of place in the place they’ve always been, but rebellions usually take less obvious forms than the nihilistic rejection of bourgeois respectability enacted by the conflicted hero at the centre of Noboru Iguchi’s Flowers of Evil (惡の華, Aku no Hana). Iguchi is best known as a director of made for export splatter exploitation, so it might come as a surprise to his fans to see him take on the admittedly dark but largely gore-fee adaptation of Shuzo Oshimi’s coming-of-age manga.

Takao (Kentaro Ito), a “regular” high school boy, likes to read “difficult” books such as the poetry collection by Charles Baudelaire from which the film takes its title. He feels himself somewhat above his surroundings, but superficially conforms to the ordinary world around him. Like many of his classmates, he’s developed an adolescent crush on the school’s prettiest girl, Nanako (Shiori Akita), but unlike his friends views her as his “muse”, a pure and untouchable figure of unspeakable desire. Nipping back to the classroom alone to retrieve a forgotten book, he spots Nanako’s gym bag lying on the floor and cannot resist opening it, burying his face in her clothes. Panicked after hearing someone nearby, he takes the bag home with him.

Everyone immediately knows that a “pervert” is responsible for the theft, they just don’t know who it is. Except for the class’ resident strange girl, Sawa (Tina Tamashiro), who apparently witnessed Takao’s descent into perversion in real time. She makes him a deal – write an essay all about what a big pervert he is and she’ll kept his secret in friendly complicity seeing as she is a kind of “pervert” too. Sawa, who is much more obviously “different” than Takao and completely unafraid of embracing it, is convinced that their town is entirely inhabited by “Shit Bugs”, and they are the only elevated beings. Uncomfortable with her own desire, Sawa’s behaviour becomes increasingly intense when Nanako unexpectedly expresses an interest in Takao, apparently impressed that he was so “upfront with his feelings” and willing to stand up for Sawa when she was accused of being a (but not the) thief.

Takao tells Sawa that he just wants to be “normal”, to be the kind of man Nanako could desire. Just another confused teenage boy, he doesn’t yet know who he is or what he feels and is, in a sense, consumed by the sense of emptiness that comes of lacking self-knowledge. He masks his sense of intellectual inferiority by feigning sophistication, spending his free time in second hand bookshops reading the accepted canon with a typically teenage obsession with death and despair. But as he is later forced to admit, he did so largely in order to feel superior. He doesn’t truly understand much of what he read and lacks the maturity to accept his confusion. Nanako challenges him in more ways than one – by calling him on his wilful repression of his desires, and by confronting him about his obsession with Flowers of Evil, a “difficult” book which try as she might she can’t understand. She doesn’t “get” Baudelaire, and she doesn’t “get” Takao because of it, but Takao doesn’t “get” Takao either because he thinks he’s a book filled with blank pages, that if you open the cover there’s really nothing interesting there, just a giant void of emptiness.

Three years after stealing the gym bag, Takao describes his new environment as infinitely grey as if devoid of any sense of life, whereas the climactic summer is coloured by a vibrant greenery he claims to be equally oppressive. Fed up with small-town life, both Takao and Sawa long for a mythical “beyond” on the other side of the mountains which trap them within the claustrophobic environment of their provincial existence. They kick back against small-town conservatism with childish shows of resistance which culminate in a very public act of self-harm dressed as societal attack, but remain unable and unwilling to address the real cause of their frustration in their adolescent inability to accept that desire itself is not “perverse” or somehow sullying some grand romantic notion of pure and innocent love.

Unable to process his desires, Takao remains unable to progress into adulthood and become, as Sawa later chides him, a “regular human”. Normality is, however, what he eventually chooses, reverting to the anxious bookworm he always was only having moved forward in learning to let something go, whereas Sawa perhaps feels that she has no other option that to accept her own “perversion” and be exiled by it. Takao discovers an internal “beyond” and tries to share it with Sawa, but she is looking for something else and cannot join him in the “regular” world to which he is always going to return. Iguchi dedicates the film to all those who are or were tormented by youth, allowing his tortured hero to find his path towards an integrated selfhood, but resists the temptation to belittle his suffering as he strips himself bare to exorcise the emptiness inside.


Flowers of Evil was screened as part of the 2019 Five Flavours Film Festival.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Jellyfish Eyes (めめめのくらげ, Takashi Murakami, 2013)

161244_01Jellyfish Eyes (めめめのくらげ, Mememe no Kurage) is the feature film debut of the internationally popular Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami. Well known for his cutesy character designs which are as likely to turn up in the world’s best regarded art galleries as they are on a kid’s backpack, Murakami is one of Japan’s most highly regarded art exports. Having unsuccessfully tried to raise interest in the more obvious totally CG animation, Murakami has enlisted the help of gore master Yoshihiro Nishimura for some director’s chair tips in creating a live action/CGI hybrid. Jellyfish Eyes is very definitely a kids’ movie, calling it a “family film” seems unfair when the age cut off is most likely around seven or eight years old but those who meet the (lack of) height requirement are sure to lap it up.

The story is set in post-tsunami Japan as Masashi (Takuto Sueoka) has finally moved out of the earthquake evacuation centre with his mother (Mayu Tsuruta) to live in a new town. As it will transpire, the two have moved there alone as Masashi’s father (Kanji Tsuda) has been killed in the tsunami and his mother has a brother (Takumi Saito) in the area. Not long after he moves in, the boy makes a new friend in the shape of a Jellyfish-like creature who floats in the air and loves eating the same kind of snacks as Mashashi. The creature, christened Kurage-bo (Jellyfish Boy), becomes a firm fixture in Masashi’s life and when he arrives at school Masashi realises Kurage-bo is not the only one of his kind. In this strange town all the kids have a weird little creature friend they can control by means of a smartphone app. Predictably some of the meaner boys use them to fight, but could there be a more sinister reason for the appearance of these very odd little guys? and what’s up with the bizarre religious cult that’s located right next to the creepy science lab? This is a very strange town indeed.

The film’s Japanese title, Mememe no Kurage, is a little reminiscent of the master work of the late Shigeru Mizuki, Gegege no Kitaro and like that perennially popular franchise the film focuses on the daily lives of children as they have strange adventures with supernatural creatures. The central premise is that a shady group of black clad scientific researchers (played by Masataka Kubota, Shota Sometani, Hidemasa Shiozawa, and Ami Ikenaga) claim to have found the key to surpassing natural disasters like earthquakes and it relies on the particles generated by the negative emotions of human children. Predictably it’s not long before things go from bad to worse and a giant kaiju-like creature descends on the town requiring the kids to work together to combat the marauding monster before it destroys the entire planet.

To be frank the film sounds a lot more entertaining that it turns out to be. Though undoubtedly very cute and not exactly uninteresting, it all ends up feeling, well, “superflat” only in an unintended way. The photography is generally basic though the CGI itself is of an extremely high quality and perfectly toned to match Murakami’s thematic concerns. Structurally it’s all over the place with the central ideas emphasised a little too strongly only to be thrown out of the window for the sugar rush finale of a million adorable monsters all fighting to the death for their cute as a button sad children masters. There’s quite a lot of darkness and melancholy lurking around the edges but the adorable little critters seem tailor-made for keeping the bad stuff in the background.

Like all good children’s movies the messages are the usual ones about the importance of friendship, sharing, teamwork and doing what’s right but it feels like Murakami has quite a lot of other things to say about reliance on forms of technology (and in particular what that can open the door to) and the state of post earthquake Japan that don’t quite come through. Having said that Jellyfish Eyes boasts some amazing visuals in its adorably cute cast of F.R.I.E.N.Ds and though a little messy is perfectly watchable. A festive treat for younger members of the family, Jellyfish Eyes is full of youthful idealism in the power of simple sincerity and genuine human feeling to win through against even the most terrifying of monsters but ultimately fails to offer much beyond its cutesy visuals.


Here’s a trailer – it says the creatures are invisible to adults but they aren’t (but some of them can make themselves transparent, if that makes sense).

A Snake of June ((六月の蛇, Shinya Tsukamoto, 2002)

Mr9TSdN - ImgurOne day, I will add some new content to this blog! Today is not that day. Nor is tomorrow, or the day after or the day after that (probably) but someday soon and for the rest of my life! Sorry, carried away there. Anyway, review of the newly restored HD blu-ray release of Shinya Tsukamoto’s masterpiece A Snake of June up at UK Anime Network. It’s very weird and I love it a lot.


Shinya Tsukamoto made his name with body horror infused, pulsing cult hits such as Tetsuo the Iron Man, Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet (all of which are also available in the UK on blu-ray courtesy of Third Window Films). He’s no stranger to the avant-garde, the surreal or the troubling but even then Snake of June takes things one step further than even his generally intense filmmaking would usually go. A literal “blue movie”, Snake of June is the story of one woman’s sexual awakening, her husband’s release from OCD and the final fulfilment of the couple’s relationship set against the backdrop of a cold and unfeeling city.

Rinko is an attractive, if slightly mousy, young woman who works a telephone counsellor at a Samaritans-like call centre. As for her homelife, she lives in an upscale Tokyo apartment with her salaryman husband Shigehiko. It’s unkind to say, but the couple are a total mismatch – Rinko, young and pretty even if a little shy, is obviously way out her slightly overweight, balding middleaged husband’s league. Though they seem to have a pleasant enough relationship, there’s no spark between them and they live more like friends or roommates than a married couple. Shigehiko also has an extreme love of cleaning and a touch of OCD that sees him more often caressing the bathtub rather than his wife.

All that changes however when Rinko receives a mysterious envelope full of voyeuristic photos of her masturbating and looking up erotic material on the internet. Soon enough, it turns out these are a “gift” from a troubled photographer, Iguchi, who had planned to commit suicide before talking to Rinko on the helpline. Now he wants to help her by encouraging her to embrace her sexuality and her deepest, darkest desires. Iguchi sets her several tasks to set her on her way such as buying sex toys and walking through town in revealing outfits in an attempt to make her more comfortable with her own sexuality. However, having watched Rinko blossom, Iguchi eventually turns his attention to her husband and events take a decided turn for the surreal.

Erotic – yes, in some senses of the word, but never exploitative. Shot in a melancholy blue designed to mimic the color of the falling rainwater that stains a rainy season June in Tokyo, A Snake of June is a neon inflected journey into urban isolation where the demands of city life drown out the inner fire of those who live in it. Shy and repressed Rinko makes her first foray into town wearing the ridiculously short skirt her blackmailer has “prescribed” for her nervously, clutching a long umbrella in front of her like a shield. Making the same journey sometime later Rinko walks with a swagger, almost dancingly flirtatious she owns herself – her former shield is now a sword. Her “awakening” has nothing to do with her husband or with Iguchi, it’s something she’s achieved for herself and by herself and has left her a happier and more complete person than she’s previously been allowed to be.

Her husband, Shigehiko, by contrast hasn’t quite come to terms with this new version of his wife and even when graphically confronted with it responds in an entirely passive, selfish way. Cracking Shigehiko’s shell will require a little more than gentle coaxing, manipulation and blackmail and thus begins the nightmarish second volume of the film which becomes increasingly bizarre from here on out. Strange drowning themed sex shows where a woman bangs a drum and you have to wear a funny cone on your face which only lets you view everything through a tiny circle like the iris of a an old silent movie? It’s certainly an unorthodox solution.

Like all of Tsukamoto’s work, A Snake of June is exquisitely shot with its blue tint only adding to its native beauty. This new blu-ray edition from Third Window Films remastered from the original negative and supervised by Tsukamoto himself is a pristine presentation of the film which reveals all the tiny details that were rendered invisible by previous transfers. Strange and surreal, A Snake of June is a richly multilayered film dripping with symbolism, not to mention urban melancholy, that has lost none of its power in the intervening years since its shocking debut.


Stuck on Tsukamoto? Here are some more reviews by me:

Also, look out for a review of his latest movie Fires on the Plain which is ready to go some time soon!