Friday, 25 March 2011

A Snake of June (2002)


Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto

Cult Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto has time and again proven himself to be the embodiment of what is understood as an auteur. From the moment he emerged with his dystopian tale of metallic mutation Tetsuo (1989) he has written, directed, produced, and designed a raft of distinctive and unusual feature films. Tsukamoto’s carefully constructed world often explores the human body undertaking an act of revolution in the face of urbanisation, technology and the banality of capitalist society. Although Tsukamoto’s vision is a unique one, it is couched within stylistic terms that evoke the nightmare logic of David Lynch and the body horror of David Cronenberg. Tsukamoto is fiercely independent and through his production company Kaiju Theater has contributed some of the most challenging films in modern Japanese cinema. In terms of narrative A Snake of June has to rate as one of his most straightforward films. The story unfolds in a manner which is largely understandable. This aspect of the film will not present audiences with a challenge, but the perverse sexual content and the blue tinted monochrome stylistics might.

The statuesque Asuka Kurosawa plays Rinko Tatsumi a woman who spends her days on phone lines trying to prevent people committing suicide, and by night must endure a barren domestic existence. Rinko is sexually repressed largely because her older husband Shigehiko (Yuji Kohtari) shows no interest in her, but prefers to scrub the sink and bath. His fetishism for cleanliness makes up for the frustration he feels for not being able to get it up. They sleep in separate rooms and lead isolated existences. To alleviate her frustrations Rinko masturbates and walks around the empty apartment in a short leather skirt. Unfortunately for her a photographer with an incurable cancer whom she convinced to live has taken photographic evidence of her acts of sexuality. The film builds up themes of voyeurism, stalking, and blackmail with efficiency and the first half is intriguing because we are not sure as to the blackmailing intentions of Iguchi (played by the director) and his motivations for doing what he does. He is initially at least interested in making Rinko express her inner desires. To do this he forces her to don her short skirt (minus panties of course) and parade through a busy shopping mall. Rinko is almost paralysed with terror, and very nearly faints when he orders her to purchase a remote controlled vibrator to which he gains control.

Rinko’s humiliation is highly disturbing, but Iguchi is ultimately proven to be correct. This gives her an opportunity for rebirth, and Rinko is able to complete her transformation into sex goddess. While Iguchi’s diseased and cancerous body transforms him from the inside out, Rinko’s tired marriage also transforms due to Shigehiko’s dawning awareness of his wife’s sexuality. Iguchi’s reasons for the blackmail are somewhat disappointing, but a scene in which he kicks the crap out of Shigehiko whilst wearing a twenty foot dildo isn’t! The film was shot during Japan’s rainy season, and not a scene goes by without the incessant rains battering down. This adds to the claustrophobia, and gives this angst ridden urban vision of Tokyo the requisite nightmarish tone. The water perhaps functions as a symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation, but the film is unclear on this. This is a mind-bending tale of psycho-sexual perversity, a kinky little film that  has pretensions to be something more than the perverse sexploitation film it is.

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