Rin Daughters of Mnemosyne (2008)

Rin Asougi (Mamiko Noto) works as a private investigator at Asougi Consulting along with Mimi (Rie Kugimiya). While investigating the disappearance of a cat, Rin meets Maeno (Nobuyuki Hiyama), who joins her at the detective agency. They are called upon to investigate a case involving a secretive research organisation experimenting on humans. Under the auspices of one Sayara Yamanobe (Rie Tanaka), they are attempting to uncover the secret of immortality, in the process producing an army of shambling zombies. Rin reveals that she and Mimi are actually immortal, having been touched by the Time Fruits from the tree Yggdrasil. Rin and Mimi are called upon to solve more cases, all the while fighting against the evil Apos (Akira Ishida) who seems hell-bent on destroying Rin. While women touched by time fruits become immortal, men who are touched become dark winged angels whose sole desire is to kill the immortal women. Apos is an intersex and as such possesses is a cross between the immortal and the demonic.

In six episodes the show manages to create an engaging and novel world, drawing on Norse mythology and Christian symbolism, with angels, seraphim and immortality all providing a colourful backdrop to the action. It is also interesting to see the episodes structured over a long time period, making the most of the protagonist’s immortal natures. We begin in 1990’s Shinjuku and end in 2055 Kyoto. This allows for the story to have different types of plot, with the earlier episodes being hard-boiled detective drama, albeit with plenty of comedic flourishes, to a more futurist science-fiction in later episodes, and fantasy in the final episode. It is a heady mix of various genres, foremost of which are graphic horror and erotic fantasy. The torture of women in the show is balanced by having the strong characters of Rin and Mimi at the fore. Rin and Mimi, due to their longevity, have almost preternatural intelligence, being much more than they appear on the surface. The villain Apos is deeply unlikeable and provides the perfect antagonist with his nefarious plot to destroy the immortals. The art style captures the dark streets of Tokyo with neon-lit streets and the golden sunsets over the city. There is great design work in the angels and some of the technologies seen in later episodes.

Mnemosyne is the Greek goddess of memory and the show plays with the concept of time and memory in relation to a sense of self. Rin and Mimi never alter as the years pass and the idea that a person is shaped by their experience is one that is of particular significance to them. The villain, Apos, survives by eating memories, particularly painful memories, and lives to see others suffer so that they can grow stronger by consuming their anguish. Later in the series, Rin loses her memory, and in doing so is almost able to escape from her fate. The show seems to suggest that memories can be both a benefit in reaffirming an individuals sense of self, but also a burden that ties a person to their fate.

It is explained that the Time Fruits produced by Yggdrasil have differing effects dependent on who is touched by them. Women become immortal and unable to be killed. Men become angels, supremely powerful but doomed to a very short life. The immortal women are drawn irresistibly to the men, unable to contain their lust, and the men are likewise drawn to devour the women. It is an interesting dichotomy, of absolute power or immortality, and perhaps plays on the notion of men as a powerful but destructive force, and women as a life-giving and sexualised force. The ideas of Eros and Thanatos as contrasting yet complimentary drives in human nature is one that is shown in all its gory detail here. Definitely a worthwhile watch for those interested in erotic horror with a philosophical bent.

A Snake of June (2002)

Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa) works as a mental health nurse and lives a comfortable, if apparently sexless, existence with her husband (Yuji Kotari). A package arrives at their apartment and Rinko finds a number of photographs showing her pleasuring herself. There is a mobile phone in the package and she is soon contacted by a man (Shinya Tsukamoto) who wants to blackmail her with these images. He proceeds to lead her on several sexually charged trials, including walking around in an uncharacteristically short leather skirt, buying a sex toy, and inserting a remotely operated vibrator. This man tells her that he is suffering from a terminal illness and that she is the only thing that makes him happy. Rinko’s husband soon discovers the blackmail and attempts to track down this man who is forcing his wife to perform these acts.

Writer and director Shinya Tsukamoto is no stranger to twisted narratives and difficult subject matter. “A Snake of June” sees the auteur director taking on the erotic thriller genre and infusing it with his own particular style. The film is shot entirely with a blue tint that gives it a unique look and the cinematography is nothing short of stunning. The endlessly pouring rain and torrents of water pouring into drains create an almost unbearable sense of tension, blending concepts of sex and violence through pure visual storytelling. The connection of moisture and sex is understandable, but here it is taken to an extreme that creates an oppressive atmosphere of almost hyper-sexuality. This is balanced against the asexual couple at the heart of the narrative. When we see them they are always seated apart. It also seems that Rinko’s husband has an obsession with cleanliness, perhaps referencing the sense of shame that some feel in relation to their sexual urges. Their homelife is painfully sterile, while outside the world is filthy and rain-soaked. This is further highlighted by the rain pounding on the glass window above Rinko as she bathes. She can sense that she has cut herself off from something that is calling her. The shadows of the rain pouring above certain characters, the close-ups on drains, the intercutting of a snail, all do a perfect job of creating an atmosphere that is as gripping as it is terrifying and confusing. While it may not always be apparent what the precise meaning of particular shots are, they have a subconscious and cumulative effect that is undeniable. There are shots that will linger with you long after the film has finished. The eroticism of the film is expertly done and understands that it is often far more about what is suggested than what is shown. It lingers on expectation and suggestion rather than lurid details. Tsukamoto also shows his tendency for horror with the nightmarish vision of characters looking through telescopic headgear at scenes of sexual torture. The character of Rinko is brilliantly brought to life by Asuka Kurosawa, whose story is one of self-discovery and gives a nuanced portrayal of women and sexuality. Yuji Kotari is no less important as a foil for Rinko. His constant cleaning and his anger at discovering the blackmail is important in understanding their relationship. He is almost unreadable sometimes, showing devotion to his wife but a complete lack of physicality in their relations. Both characters have back stories that are alluded to, that help the viewer understand this rather odd relationship. Shinya Tsukamoto himself rounds out the main cast, playing the villainous blackmailer.

Nothing is quite clearly defined in the film, eroticism and horror, love and sex, life and death, all of these are in conflict with one another. There is a theme running through of sex as both dark and dangerous, yet also an emancipatory force. The characters live in their cordoned off home, secure from the metaphors for sex and debauchery outside. The husband’s dedication to cleanliness seems to reference the idea of expunging sin. The death of his mother is alluded to and there is clearly something in his psychology that prevents him being physically intimate with his sexually attractive wife. Likewise, Rinko’s father was a drunken bully, which may have led to her closing herself off from male advances and seeking a similarly asexual partner. The film is divided into sections “woman” and “man”, and the trio of characters act almost as archetypal figures, with Tsukamoto being an unknown quantity, perhaps representative of death or some dark force that is controlling the lives of the man and woman. This work is Tsukamoto at his absolute best, showing a unique talent for directing. “A Snake of June” is beautifully shot and has a story that is engaging, but leaves enough unsaid for multiple interpretations.