*22. A SNAKE OF JUNE (2002)

 Rokugatsu no hebi

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Yûji Kôtari, Shinya Tsukamoto

PLOT: Rinko is a shy and inhibited woman working as a counselor at a suicide hotline. One day, a photographer she previously helped sends her compromising photos of herself. The stalking turns into blackmail when he forces her to live out her erotic fantasies, which take on an increasingly hallucinatory character.

Still from A Snake of June (2002)

BACKGROUND:

  • Shinya Tsukamoto’s seventh film, after Gemini (1999).
  • A Snake of June debuted at the 59th Venice International Film Festival (2002), where it won a special award (the Kinematrix Film Award, which does not appear to have been awarded before or since).
  • Tsukamoto and main actress Asuka Kurosawa were respectively awarded the Special Jury Award and Best Actress Award at 2003’s edition of Fantasporto (Porto International Film Festival).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The unusual garb of the erotic cabaret’s patrons, who sport funnel masks as they watch an equally offbeat performance.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Erotic drowning performance; corrugated pipe assault

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although modest by the director’s standards, A Snake of June stands out by all other measures of weirdness through its gradual abandonment of conventional narrative logic to indulge in surreal displays of interlacing horror, desire and sadism.


Restoration trailer for A Snake of June (2002)

COMMENTS: A Snake of June starts off surprisingly restrained for a Shinya Tsukamoto film, and more or less sustains this posture during the first half of its running time. A straightforward narrative presents Rinko, her workplace, and her domestic life with her frigid, hygiene-obsessed husband. Tsukamoto’s characteristic frenetic handheld camera gives way to fixed shots that calmly survey these environments. Nonetheless, the movie has a subtle and mysteriously disquieting aura. For starters, the monochrome blue tint is an off-key element that should serve as a warning. We are in a liminal state between regular diurnal consciousness and the ready-to-burst violence of the instinctual mind. Rain, the film’s main visual motif, symbolizes psychic depths; it pours everywhere, but the characters protect themselves through umbrellas and the shelter of their homes.

We know well that it’s only a matter of time before Tsukamoto cedes the movie to the id. Until then, we’re treated to a surprisingly atmospheric affair that almost resembles a conventional thriller. Rinko’s first erotic enactment, guided by the unseen stalker (Tsukamoto himself) through the phone, communicates the sense of passing through a forbidden threshold, with all the ambiguous and intense feelings thus implied. Here, the camerawork and sound design let loose to vigorously portray Rinko’s simultaneously liberating and terrifying surrender to long-repressed impulses.

Only by the second half does the film dive headlong into the nightmare spectacle we expect from Tsukamoto. Rinko’s husband Shigehiko, so far a background figure, is dragged into a psychosexual theater that assumes increasingly bizarre and disturbing forms, and overtakes the remainder of the film with a succession of surreal set pieces. We see him at a sort of underground erotic exhibition where he’s put in a tank filled with water while observed by an audience of suited men with cone-shaped masks, as well as in a violent confrontation with the stalker that soon takes a turn to the director’s Japanese cyberpunk roots. These truculent nightmare snippets, Tsukamoto’s specialty, are as memorable as we expect, but relatively short. This may leave the viewer wishing for a more thorough exploration of these environments, but their brevity is  appropriate if we see them as glimpses into the characters’ fragmentary and hallucinatory visions. The spectacle is abruptly cut short by a final moment of seeming reconciliation between the two lovers, leading us perhaps to believe that the unconscious phantasms on display in the previous scenes have been harmoniously integrated into their psyches.

A Snake of June occupies an unique place in Tsukamoto’s filmography, portraying as it does the interchange between everyday reality and perception and the obscure labyrinths of the mind’s recesses. While not as full-blown an excursion into deranged oneirism as his iconic Tetsuo, it by no means sacrifices the dark imagination that propels it even during its seemingly unassuming moments. A Snake of June is a highlight of Tsukamoto’s career.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“An utterly bizarre and remarkable film by Shinya ‘Tetsuo’ Tsukamoto, with ‘Made in Japan’ stamped through it like a stick of rock.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

“…things get quite bizarre when the stranger eventually meets Shigehiko. The film temporarily steps into the same territory David Lynch and David Cronenberg’s best mind-benders like to visit, though at this point the sudden shift does not seem as effective as it was obviously intended to be.”–Dr. Svet Atanasov, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

IMDB LINK: A Snake of June (2002)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Mark Kermode reviews A Snake Of June (2009) – Kermode’s video introduction to the film for the British Film Institute

The Softer Side of Shinya Tsukamoto – Writing for Mubi, Danielle Burgos considers A Snake of June together with Tsukamoto’s next film, Vital (2004)

List Candidate: A Snake of June (2000) – This site’s original List Candidate entry

HOME VIDEO INFO:  Although A Snake of June has never been particularly well-represented in the home video ranks, it did receive a DVD release from Kino Lorber in 2005 (buy).

On Blu-ray, the movie is unavailable as a standalone feature in North America, but was released in the UK by Third Window Films (buy).

The film can also be found on Blu-ray as part of Arrow’s Shinya Tsukamato’s box set “Solid Metal Nightmares” (buy), alongside nine other movies (including the Canonically Weird classic  Tetsuo: The Iron Man). That set includes a Snake of June “making of” featurette.

Finally, A Snake of June can be purchased or rented on-demand (rent or buy).

Where to watch A Snake of June

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