A Snake of June (2004) Movie Review

Shinya Tsukamoto is one of the most interesting and challenging director/writer/actor working in world cinema today. Best known for his cyberpunk “Tetsuo” films, he is a man truly dedicated to his vision, and is one of the few artists who use the cinematic medium as a tool of discourse and meaning. Often referred to as the Japanese equivalent of David Lynch, Tsukamoto’s works tend to be obsessed with the human physical form, usually in terms of its decay or its place in (and modification by) an increasingly technological society.

His films are complex, abstract and surreal, and have quite a unique look, as Tsukamoto is fond of shooting in a bizarre and stylized, and yet oddly classical, fashion. “A Snake of June” is a disturbing and erotic continuing exploration of his chosen subjects, though perhaps with a less clinical attitude towards flesh, and initially at least, in a more accessible manner.

The plot of “A Snake of June” at first resembles that of a porno or sex film. A repressed woman named Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa) is photographed by a mysterious man while she’s masturbating at home. The man (played by the director himself) contacts her and begins a strange campaign of blackmail, forcing her to perform acts of sexual self-satisfaction (for want of a better term) in order to help release her dormant desires and identity. However, inspired by tragic events, the blackmailer decides to involve Rinko’s chauvinistic husband, and matters take a decidedly surreal turn.

The first half of the film, dealing with the blackmail and Rinko’s awaking sexuality, is fairly straightforward, at least in comparison to Tsukamoto’s other works. Although it may sound like a standard “erotic thriller”, the scenes are shot like a blue-tinged film-noir, and though there is a fair amount of nudity, none of it is designed to titillate. Although it is sometimes advertised as a sex romp, “A Snake of June” is an “adult” film in the purest sense of the word, and is not aimed at fans of cinematic sleaze. Tsukamoto is more concerned with exploring the landscape of the body itself, and though designed to reflect Rinko’s increasing sensuality, and despite containing some explicit sexual content, the graphic scenes are far from glamorous and are nothing like those in simple exploitation films.

Asuka Kurosawa is excellent in the lead role, winning our sympathy and giving the film a believable, grounded center. Her performance helps to lend the proceedings an emotional dimension, which is quite rare for the director.

The second half of the film has far more in common with the “Tetsuo” series, and it is here that “A Snake of June” may lose some viewers. As the husband gets involved, the blackmailer decides to take him to task over his attitude towards Rinko, allowing Tsukamoto to make some very interesting and nihilistic observations on male attitudes toward the female form, particularly regarding ownership and desire. Although somewhat more of a caricature, the husband (played by Yuji Kohtari) is still quite fascinating, as he is both wretched and realistic.

However, this is the only nod towards realism, as the film plunges deep into the realm of the surreal, with a series of bizarre and disturbing events. The gentle, sensual tone that was shown earlier is replaced with horrific images, violence, and some disturbing injections of threateningly organic technology. This really allows the director to let loose with his trademark style, and the viewer is bombarded with a variety of visual and editing techniques.

Thankfully, “A Snake of June” remains vaguely consistent, and true to the overall themes which it was initially concerned with, albeit in an increasingly deranged fashion. However strange the film gets, it’s worth noting that it never comes across as gratuitous, or as being odd simply for the sake of being odd. Tsukamoto is almost peerless at creating this type of imagery, and never falls into the trap of making the film resemble a commercial or music video.

Though I personally enjoyed it immensely, “A Snake of June” is likely to divide viewers, as have the director’s previous films. For some, the sheer weight of the strangeness on display may prove too ponderous, and the visceral, almost industrial nature of some of the images may be too disturbing. For fans of the director, or those who have a penchant for alternative and risky filmmaking, the first half provides a fascinating commentary on the human condition, whilst the second half enthralls with a wild, unforgettable visual assault.

Shinya Tsukamoto (director) / Shinya Tsukamoto (screenplay)
CAST: Asuka Kurosawa …. Rinko Tatsumi
Yuji Kohtari …. Shigehiko
Shinya Tsukamoto …. Iguchi

Buy A Snake of June on DVD