Snakes and Earrings

Japan, 2008
Original title: Hebi ni Piasu

Director: Yukio Ninagawa
Starring: Yuriko Yoshitaka, Arata, Kengo Kora
IMDB: 6.6

If the opening sequence of a film sets the tone for the rest of the movie, then its a silent, contemplative tone for Snakes and Earrings. The first four minutes are almost entirely silent as Lui (Yuriko Yoshitaka) makes her way across the famously busy Shibuya intersection in Tokyo's fashion district wearing her headphones.

Lui is a self-confessed 'fashion victim' - a type of young woman commonly found stalking the malls in Shibuya. She is slim, gorgeous, and tanned with perfect hair, nails and makeup and wears fashionable clothes. As she explains, her name is Lui as in Louis Vuitton.

Entering a local nightclub, soon she is approached by the tattooed Ama (Kengo Kora) who interests her with his punk haircut, multiple piercings, and forked tongue.

You wouldn't think that he's her style at all. But without further ado, he takes her home and shags her, and she becomes his live-in girlfriend. That was easy huh? Either director Yukio Ninagawa couldn't be bothered with any further preamble, or more likely he's saying something about the modern young fashion victims of Tokyo.

To fit in with her new boyfriend, Lui decides that she wants to get a tattoo and a forked tongue too. So he takes her down to see his tattoo artist friend Shiva (Arata), who helps her pick out a tattoo and explains the process involved in getting a split tongue. When he penetrates her tongue with the needle, Lui fantasises about him penetrating her in another way. Blunt though that metaphor may be, there's more to it than that. Turns out that Lui digs pain - she's a masochist. Which is just perfect because Shiva just happens to be a sadist. (A theme also visited in the excellent Ichi the Killer)

When she returns alone shortly after to organise her tattoo, Shiva lets her know that she can pay for his services with a 'service' of her own. She readily agrees and so he shags her. Violently. After tying her hands behind her back with a leather belt, and throwing her over a table, he requests that she keeps crying, as that's the only way he can enjoy it. Seems that she prefers it too because she returns regularly for more of the same as work on her tattoo progresses.

If you like degenerate and twisted films, then more than likely your interest is piqued at this point! But while the premise of the film sounds exploitational, the delivery is more like a slow-burning drama. At over 2 hours long, the film takes its own sweet time getting there.

As Lui is still living with Ama, and shagging Shiva on the side, the inevitable love triangle develops - in more ways than one. You'll have to watch the movie to find out what happens next.

Although the actors are relatively unknown to me, they all did a fine job of creating believable characters. Especially actress Yuriko Yoshitaka who is not only half naked a lot of the time, but also seems to have allowed significant abuse to her tongue. Even on slow-mo I could not tell if her piercing/splitting was real or special effect.

It's hard to imagine this film being very popular outside of Japan, or even inside it for that matter. It's a bit too sexual and twisted for general consumption, yet too slow for lovers of exploitation and extreme J-Cinema. But if you like the subject matter, and have the patience, give it a shot - it may well be one of the better quality films with an S&M theme out there.

Twisted rating: 3/5

Screenshots - click to enlarge

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