hinya 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
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
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.