"The premise could have easily led to some sort of Cinemax late-night skin flick but in the hands of Shinya Tsukamoto it is something much more strange and beautiful."
- Raging Gaijin
A Snake of June (2002)
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
AKA: Rokugatsu No Hebi
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Producer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Asuka Kurosawa, Yuji Kohtari, Shinya Tsukamoto
Running Time: 77 min.
Plot: See review below.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
RAGING GAIJIN'S REVIEW: It's no secret that the Japanese people are repressed. And we all know that when a society represses its deepest, darkest urges, they don't actually go away. No, they remain just below the surface and ready to break through at any moment. Or at the very least they're filtered through popular culture; just look at all that tentacle anime the kiddies seem to love. Shinya Tsukamoto, never one afraid to tackle taboos or stir controversy, explores the repressed desires at the heart of modern day Japan with his 2002 film "A Snake of June".
The plot concerns a young housewife played by Asuka Kurosawa. She's slightly bored with her middle class life and her neat-freak husband doesn't pay much attention to her, in or out of the bedroom. Everything changes when Asuka receives a mysterious package in the mail, which contains candid photos of her pleasuring herself, photographed by some unknown voyeur. Soon after she receives a telephone call from this stalker and he blackmails her into doing increasingly risqué things in order to get the negatives back. Although his methods are often mean-spirited and degrading, slowly but surely the stalker's demands reveal a positive change in Asuka. Oh, yeah, and in the meantime her husband is unwittingly drawn into a secret underworld of sexual deviancy and murder. Strange? Yes, but this is Shinya Tsukamoto, the man who unleashed "Tetsuo: The Iron Man" onto the world. We wouldn't expect anything less.
Perhaps even more striking than Asuka's gradual change from frumpy housewife to kink queen is the film's cinematography. "A Snake of June" was shot in black and white but later altered to a blue-tinted monochromatic color scheme. The result is a melancholy and haunting hue that fits the rainy June reason depicted in the film. On a visual level, the film does not disappoint. From the camera angles to the production design, it is obvious that Tsukamoto carefully set up each and every shot with a clear purpose in mind. "A Snake of June" is undoubtedly the work of a true artist.
Beyond the visuals, Asuka Kurosawa gives a remarkably brave and revealing performance. The story asks a lot of her but she pulls it off very well. I can't imagine it'd be easy for an actress to play this role and I'm not just saying that because she has to take her clothes off; her character explores great emotional depths. It is to her credit that the viewer feels like she is gaining a sense of independence and freedom with each erotic endeavor, and not that just becoming a degenerate or nymphomaniac.
The problem with "A Snake of June" is this: the people who are going to enjoy it the most are those who are already fans of writer/director Shinya Tsukamoto. Anyone simply anticipating an erotic thriller is going to be disappointed and bemused when the film takes a turn at its midpoint into David Lynch-like realms of weirdness. There are some truly bizarre scenes that even Tsukamoto himself has admitted to not knowing what they mean. The ending is also quite simple and disappointing given the shocks and twists that have come before. The implications of what happens to the characters *after* the events of the movie are certainly interesting, but the ending itself fails to really put closure to the story or engage the viewer.
If you watch this film with the right expectations, you'll enjoy it more. It's erotic, yes, but it's not all about sex or nudity. It's artistic, yes, but that doesn't mean everything makes sense. There are no easy answers to what happens in "A Snake of June" but there really doesn't have to be. The premise could have easily led to some sort of Cinemax late-night skin flick but in the hands of Shinya Tsukamoto it is something much more strange and beautiful. The film is not without its faults or slow parts but it's still a worthy addition to Tsukamoto's filmography and another stunning artistic endeavor from one of Japan's most unique directors.
RAGING GAIJIN'S RATING: 7.5/10