Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s 2002 film A Snake of June is not the expressionist headache viewers might expect if they’ve perused the writer/director’s infamous 1989 film Tetsuo, the Iron Man. Like Cronenberg, Lynch, or even Miike, Tsukamoto’s interests lie in the unflinching dissemination of human behaviour, through emotional turmoil, technology, violence, and sexuality.
Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa) is a councillor at a suicide helpline, her workaholic husband Shigehiko (Yuji Kotari) is germaphobic, allergic to animals, and sexually indifferent. After saving a man from suicide, Rinko is forced into sexually self-liberating exercises via blackmail, whilst her husband struggles to deal with his own problems.
First and foremost, A Snake of June is about a relationship undergoing fierce transformation at the hands of the troubled Iguchi (played by Tsukamoto himself).Tsukamoto’s frustrations with contemporary Japan find life in the transformative potential of true uninhibited behaviour. So much so, that it would be fair to call Snake of June an angry film. The recurrent shots of slugs address the potent sex drive in nature, whilst the omnipresent rain does its best to wash away the filth Tsukamoto sees clinging to the city. Oddly, all this rain, all this weight, seems to make its way down the same drain, in the ceiling of Rinko’s living room, is a wide circular aperture which makes her home and relationship the sewer itself; perhaps Tsukamoto’s most acidic comment on the state of marriage in modern Japan. In another way, these natural elements of the film tellingly juxtapose the industrial quality of Shigehiko’s sexual experiences.
There’s a strong Noir element to the film too, one that Tsukamoto encourages from start to finish as the yin to his surrealist yang. It’s actually almost comedic how dark the film is in an attempt to reveal the shadowy psychology and social construction of Japanese sexuality. Aside from the rain and murky cinematography, performance is key to the noir side of things. Kurosawa is a stunning lead, transforming into a femme fatale over the course of the film’s trials to boisterously oppose the hyper-conservative Japan Tsukamoto paints around her. Though here, the femme fatale ends up being fatal for the old form of sexuality Tsukamoto finds so troublesome.
As with any story about a love triangle, things build to a dramatic and uncomfortable conclusion. The fantasy or tech-punk elements found in Tetsuo make their brief but stated appearance, robot cocks and terrifying sex/death voyeur shows are enough to breathe a considerable amount of horror into A Snake of June. The beak-like visors worn by snuff show spectators physically embody the bizarre hypocritical nature of the patriarchal world: to demand femininity (to the point of refusing women masectomy’s) whilst demonising Rinko’s sexuality.
Tsukamoto’s A Snake of June is a riveting, engrossing piece of cinema, but it won’t be for everyone. A particular set of exotic tastes mix to form a pretty unique sex-tech-noir that looks best on its new Blu-Ray release.
Dir: Shin’ya Tsukamoto
Stars: Asuka Kurosawa, Yuji Kotari, Shin’ya Tsukamoto