One of Japan’s most notorious exports, Hideshi Hino’s THE FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD earned its infamy not so much from its gruesome subject matter but rather a particularly significant screening. This shot-on-video movie is also known as SLOW DEATH: THE DISMEMBERMENT and GUINEA PIG 2 (and despite a number of movies circulating under the “Guinea Pig” banner–HE NEVER DIES, DEVIL WOMAN DOCTOR, et al–this is the only true sequel to that 1985 shocker), but you may know it best as “the movie Charlie Sheen thought was a genuine snuff film.”
While Sheen’s panicked call reporting the movie to the FBI is worthy of a chuckle or two, it’s easy to see the misunderstanding. (Personally, I think the mistake stems less from FLOWER’s stomach-churning effects than the amount of nose candy the actor is reputed to have enjoyed in those days.) The 1985 gorefest in question has all the perceived earmarks of what an authentic snuff movie might have: the action, such as it is, largely confined to a single location, the limited number of participants, and the voyeuristic, fetishized documentation of death on camera.
The premise, for those of you unaware, invovles an attractive young girl who finds herself drugged and abducted off the street. She then finds herself in a dungeon-like room where a pasty-faced dude in a samurai helmet sedates her, then dismembers, disembowels, and decapitates her in a systematic, ritualistic manner (each segment prefaced with a stitled soliloquy from our samurai on making beauty out of grue), all in order to transform her into a “flower of blood and flesh.”
Watching with a close eye (and non-coke addled brain) it’s easy to see the cracks in FLOWER’s verisimilitude. Unconvincing sound effects are used to “sweeten” the dismemberment scenes, and while the gore is as graphic as it is plentiful, it doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny, revealing itself often to be awkward and medically inaccurate. And if you’re still not sure what you’re watching is fake, consider the movie’s production credits.
To be fair, THE FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD never claims to be real, using the same air of illusory authenticity that accompanies found-footage movies like THE LAST EXORCISM and CLOVERFIELD. (It even comes with a text-based prologue explaining its nefarious origins.) Yet it’s the sense that what’s unfolding on screen might be real is what gives the movie its impact; by realizing it’s fake, it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that FLOWER fails as entertainment.
For starters, it’s boring. The movie’s lack of narrative thrust, serving as nothing more for a showcase of disgusting effects, quickly becomes leaden; any suspense comes from what body part will fall next beneath the samurai’s blade. Lacking any conflict, characterization (why is the samurai doing this?), or context, FLOWER has no objective other than displaying blood and internal organs to the audience. If there were a greater metaphorical meaning to this, such as in Kenneth Anger’s autopsy film THE ACT OF SEEING WITH ONE’S OWN EYES, that could be excusable, but instead THE FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD operates merely on a freakshow level. It dares you to keep watching; not in order to understand a deeper, harsh truth, but to see what awful thing happens next. (And I don’t have a problem with that, in theory. Being shocking and disgusting is fine, but don’t test my patience along with my gag reflex.)
Nor are we allowed, or intended, to sympathize with the victim. She’s presented ostensibly as a canvas on which to convey the samurai’s intent, but FLOWER portrays her instead as an object, something to be discarded once she’s served her purpose. Her death has no significance, consequence, or impact, other than to satisfy the samurai’s urges. This I do have a problem with. Especially when her decapitaion–and subsequent eyeball-removal–is capped by a presumably lighthearted shot of the samurai enjoying a cigarette, his expression suggesting post-coital satisfaction.
Director Hino does attempt a few artistic flourishes, such as spattering the walls of the samurai’s dungeon with blood to suggest previous “episodes,” but prefers to keep the proceedings as no-frills as possible. He saves his more elaborate touches for the epilogue, in which he reveals the samurai’s “collection,” a room filled with decomposing body parts in jars or potted in soil like plants. It’s a creepy, unnerving sequence, that unfortuantely loses most of its impact when it goes on for far too long–unless you’re really disturbed by maggots squirming around in plastic skeletons.
It’s hard to recommend THE FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD for more than its curiosity factor, just another item to mark off your “Notorious Gore Movies I Haven’t Seen” list. There’s little of value here, unless you’re a budding special effects artist (in which case, I urge you to track down the making-of doc, produced to prove the film was indeed a fake). Or maybe you’d like to screen it for your more gullible friends; just be prepared when dark-shaded men in suits turn up on your doorstep.
Here’s a taste (unless youtube pulls it for violating some policy or another):