Romaji: Roku Gatsu no Hebi
Japanese Release Date: 24th May, 2003
Running Time: 77 mins.
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto(Screenplay)
Starring: Asuka Kurosawa, Yuji Kohtari, Shinya Tsukamoto, Mansaku Fuwa, Tomorowo Taguchi, Susumu Terajima, Tomoko Matsumoto, Shuji Otsuki, Masato Tsujioka, Takuji Suzuki
Despite the active presence of women, Tsukamoto’s early films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer end up being masculine stories of malign worlds full of inhuman technology, body-horror and destruction. 1995’s Tokyo Fist was the first where I felt that women were given equal footing. In A Snake of June Tsukamoto once again uses his keen style to explore and depict the dark psychological and emotional pressures that are awakened in a harsh urban environment but the violence and weirdness are replaced with a story of repressed sexual desires of a woman in the vulpine form of Asuka Kurosawa.
It is June and the rainy season has started in an unnamed metropolis. Rinko (Kurosawa) is a thirty-something mental health worker at the County Health Mental Centre. She lives with her husband Shigehiko (Kohtari), a salary-man with an obsession with cleanliness. They live a dull life until Rinko receives a letter labelled “Your Husband’s Secrets”. The contents include photos of her pleasuring herself in public. Rinko is horrified that she has been caught. The sender of the letter is Iguchi (Tsukamoto) and he starts making phone calls and issuing orders to Rinko holding out the possibility that he will give her the negatives. He starts with telling her to wear mini-skirts in public and his order escalates to purchasing a vibrator and further. Soon, Rinko and Shigehiko find their inner-most sexual desires are being opened up by this mysterious stranger.
A Snake of June was given the Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Venice Film Festival. The film is one that appeals to both the art-house crowd and genre fans since it has Tsukamoto’s directorial panache and a little body-horror but he has toned it down. Indeed, there is a visible shift from his usual frenetic style which he has calmed down in order to give a fulsome examination of a woman’s sexual awakening. It is this marriage of style and subject that prevents the film from feeling exploitative and it is also the performance of Asuka Kurosawa.
Rinko as a stereotypically demure office-worker who lives a repressed life in one of Tsukamoto’s typical lifeless and stifling urban environments. She and her husband get along but ultimately lead emotionally separate lives and are inauthentic thanks to her sexual repression and his OCD and emotional distance. They look ill-matched to begin with – she’s young, messy and pretty while he is older, staid and distant. Rinko’s world soon comes crumbling down when a dark stranger begins sending her photos that reveal the sexuality she has repressed.
Something has burst open in you
It would be easy for a subject like this to feel exploitative but with Tsukamoto at the helm it is dark and mysterious. A Snake of June is filmed in a monochrome which brings out beautiful shades of light and darkness on the character’s faces but can also be harsh in depicting the world which is a grim rain-soaked cyberpunk environment. There is little body-horror but through the film’s editing and camerawork Tsukamoto once again reveals the pressures and transformative powers of strange obsessions and desires. This time it is sex and not violence but fans and newcomers alike will recognise and enjoy the mixture of the erotic and strange.
Throughout the film Rinko kept hold of my interest and this is thanks to the performance of Kurosawa and the direction of Tsukamoto. I felt for her throughout her transformation, something I was only partially able to do with some of the protagonists of Tokyo Fist who scared me by the end of the film, so good were there performances and depiction of being twisted by hate. As Rinko finds her desires dragged messily into the open, the multiple edits of close-ups and extreme close-ups invade her personal space. This works well alongside Kurosawa’s acting which conveys the sense of threat and intimidation and the frantic thoughts and feelings she must have at having her deepest desires revealed. While there are many erotic close-ups which highlight the liquid on her skin and her shapely body, we are very much aware of the contortions of misery her facial features are making and when the camera adopts her point of view, it brilliantly delivers her paranoid thoughts and her feelings of shame as it nervously flicks between views of different people. When she transforms into a person comfortable with her sexual desires… Wow, just wow. She is stunning.
What of the men in this story? Shigehiko takes the lead later in the story and we follow him as he enters a dark world where all normal conventions broken as he is forced to confront his wife’s sexual blossoming. Here, the camera prowls around voyeuristically as he tries to keep track of her and encounters really odd situations. Meanwhile the stranger named Iguchi takes on the role of catalyst for Rinko’s transformation through revealing a link between sex and death, much as the women in Tsukamoto’s earlier films did. Like Tokyo Fist, there is a bit of a love-triangle going on with Tsukamoto playing a harsh but pitiable antagonist (which is where the biomechanical nightmares are allowed to enter). He has great chemistry with the other two leads and is hard to pin as good or evil, making him quite interesting. Overall, this is the story of Rinko becoming more in touch with her character and authenticity and she dominates all of these sections even when she is not in them.
The quality of the performances are such that you believe in the relationship between Rinko and Shigehiko and Tsukamoto but it is Kurosawa who is the focus and she steals the show. Kurosawa gives a brave and gutsy performance, revealing more than just her body as she transforms from demure woman repressing her feelings to a person shell-shocked and sick at the thought of the public humiliation and desperately fighting pent up animal lust and then being comfortable with her killer sexiness. At her most sexually liberated she makes men tremble and fall apart, drained. I picked her out for her performance in Cold Fish and here, in a lead role, she delivers a brilliant performance.
The ending is a bit of a mystery as is the usual case with Tsukamoto but unlike Tetsuo and Tokyo Fist, this one ends on one that I felt was much more positive, that Rinko was going to be okay after all this, a better person who is much more self-aware. As a fans of Tsukamoto, I felt that this was a natural and interesting progression while people intimidated by his early films may find that A Snake of June reveals that Tsukamoto is more than just a cyberpunk master with a tendency for over the top body-horror.
4-Page booklet with film notes
Original Theatrical Trailer
Asia Extreme Trailer Reel
I was a little disappointed with the extras. The original theatrical trailer is rather stylish and interesting while the Asia Extreme Trailer Reel has trailers for Dark Water, Tetsuo and other titles in its catalogue. The big disappointment? No booklet. Bright Future had a booklet but it seems to have gone missing with this release.