A young woman is thrown into a nightmarish fantasy in Shinya Tsukamoto’s sort-of erotic thriller.
“I found a good old camera. I made it when I was a kid. With this camera, I wanted to take a photo of you.”
Director Shinya Tsukamoto is no stranger to social commentary in his movies. His style – a madcap mix of crazy angles, monochromatic palettes and guerrilla shooting – often makes for a very open and free canvas on which to paint his themes on. The grinding, intense style is perfect for looking into the darkness which permeates everyone’s subconscious and showcasing it in a visual medium. It was natural, then, that he attempt to cover the more sexual nature of the clash that goes on between our primal urges and our reluctance to address or approach them. This is where A Snake of June comes in.
Asuka Kurosawa plays Rinko, a psychiatrist who’s stuck in a sexless marriage with her workaholic, clean-freak and strikingly older husband Shigehiko (Yuji Kotari). She receives a series of photos in the mail of her masturbating, and a phone call from a blackmailer named Iguchi (Tsukamoto himself) ordering her to do a number of humiliating, sexual acts. The film switches perspective, from her point of view to her husband’s, repeating a few scenes here and there as the story unfolds, before finally devolving into … well, it’s a Tsukamoto film, so you know madness is somewhere around the corner.
Like I mentioned a few lines ago, at its core, A Snake of June is a film about its characters’ reserved sexual identities: from the husband who seems to have little interest in Rinko, her frustration in the whole thing, and Iguchi whose instructions and methods are terrifying and awful, but also help Rino understand herself more. In a way, it’s like three aspects that are deep-seated in us all. A Snake in June, on paper, certainly seems like it has a lot to say, so it’s only a shame that it does, but only in passing.
The film does speak a bit about the stoic Japanese attitude towards sex, but it also does very little to actually address the issue. The main character is a psychiatrist, whose words initially helped the stalker down from suicide. That she is not open with her husband about her frustrations is a slick irony, but one that’s never touched upon much, only once or twice by Tsukamoto’s character. It’s certainly there, just not quite as well explored as I’d hoped it would be.
In the director’s usual style, the entire film is in black and white (or rather, blue and white) and shot in his typical experimental style; his twisting of the language of cinema is fun to behold, and works about fifty percent of the time. He plays with timelines, and editing to add a sense of unease to the whole thing, making this feel a lot more like a straightforward thriller than, say, Tetsuo was – with only a handful of the stuff you’d come to expect.
On top of the visuals, A Snake of June does have his trademark wackiness, from the bafflingly weird cult Shigehiko is taken to, to Iguchi’s hosepipe-gear stick dick. It’s all very par for the course, but those moments are few and far between and actually do more to remind us of his previous films, and the comparison isn’t necessarily good. Because where Tetsuo was a surreal psychohorror about the inner rage within the average salaryman, Snake is almost a reflection of Japan’s repressed sexual culture. It never quite hits those notes, and while it’s possible to gleam a message and metaphors from the film, the majority of the work is done by the audience rather than the filmmaker.
A Snake of June is OK. Once again, Tsukamoto proves he’s capable of taking a tricky subject and doing his own thing with it (while, completely on brand, playing a total creep). That it’s not as well-crafted or clever as Tetsuo is not exactly a criticism, but it does feel like Tsukamoto simply didn’t have as much material to work with. With the film clocking in at only 77 minutes (have any of his films ever reached 90 minutes?), it’s not hard to see why. It’s still worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of this sort of thing, but he’s certainly done better.
Verdict: It’s an erotic thriller by Shinya Tsukamoto. You already know what you’re getting yourself into.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Weirdness: Not as much as you’d expect
Cancer diagnoses: Just sort of takes his word for it, doesn’t she.
Happy ending: And how
A Snake of June (2002)
Also known as: 六月の蛇, Rokugatsu no hebi
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Asuka Kurosawa – Rinko Tatsumi
Yuji Kotari – Shigehiko
Shinya Tsukamoto – Iguchi