A Snake of June (Shinya Tsukamoto/2002/Japan) - in the Blue Sex

The story of a women’s physical and sexual reawakening, A Snake of June dispense with any notion of genre and become perhaps the purest expression yet of Shinya Tsukamoto’s thematic concerns.

Recycling the love triangle premise of his earlier films Gemini and Tokyo Fist, but dispensing with the horror/fantasy overtones of the dispensing with the bloodspurting  brutality of the letter, A snake of June is the story of a couple  first and foremost, not a genre film that happens  to have a couple as its subject

The couple in question are Rinko (stage actress Asuka Kurosawa) and Shigenhiko (novelist Yuji Kotari), whose physical mismatch (she a lithe beauty, he an overweight, balding neurotic obsessed with cleanliness) is reflected in the complete lack of intimacy between them. They connect as human being, but they live more like friends than as lovers and lead nearly independent lives, Both seem comfortable with this coexistence,  but the desires that lurk beneath its surface are brought out with the introduction of ta third element into the equation.  When Rinko receives a package of candid photographs of herself masturbating and the sender (played by Shinya Tsukamoto himself) contacts her with the threat of exposing them to her husband, she submits herself to the anonymous voyeur’s sexual games. In order to get hold of all the negative and prints, the mysterious caller orders her to complete a set of assignment that that are constantly on borderline between humiliation and pleasure--the voyeur knows exactly what Rinko’s personal erotic fantasies are and makes her act them out one by one.

Although the material lends itself all too easily to an exploitative approach, Tsukamoto keeps his attention rigorously focused on the characters and their emotional responses. A Snake of June never once feels like exploitation –or worse, pornography – and the only explicitness on offer here is in the actors’ faces rather than other part of their anatomy. The film is a character piece, one that despite its intimate point of views manages to incorporate the characters’ positions in the society. In order to confront her with what she’s allowing herself to hide, the blackmailer forces her to play out her innermost desires in public her to play out her into breaking a barrier, to behave in a way that requires her to violate society’s rule of how she is expected to behave, because it’s those rules that have allowed her to continue living in denial of her own desires, to coexist with her husband instead of sharing her life with him.

It’s in the aspect that the film reveals depth in its attitude towards the female protagonist. Although the premise would suggest a very male perspective, with the woman taking the role of object of sexual gratification, the real gratification and liberation are Rinko’s Like the female protagonist of Tokyo first, she develops into a self-aware and self-confident individual in the touch with her own personality, a woman who doesn’t let the rule imposed on her by her environment decide how she should live her life. Without going so far as to call A Snake of June feminist, Tsukamoto’s film protagonist that unfortunately is still all too rare in the maledominated world of cinema, Japanese or otherwise (it won the Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival 2002,where French feminist director Catherine Breillat was one of its staunchest supporters).

Despite doing away with the genre-based surface that has been the most eye-catching, and popular, element of the director’s previous work, stylistically this is instantly recognizable as a Tsukamoto film. Shot blue-tinted monochrome, the images  are as beautiful and the photography and editing as intense as any of his earlier efforts.  Although he places more emphasis than ever on the human form as is, untainted by mutation or mutilations, the director dose occasionally add some of his beloved biomechanical imagery. Thought seemingly at odds with the realistic tone of the film these moments have a more symbolic function, serving as the visualization of the character’s emotions. There fantasy scenes, only two in number, are both experienced by Shigeniko, whose obsession allows for such delusions: His discovery of a huge glob of filth in the sink (an exaggerated, almost mutant version of what most of us hesitantly scrape from the drain on occasion) is what forms the catalyst for these nightmarish visions.

With its focus on human beings and organic life (also present in the incessant downpour that forms the backdrop to Rinko’s sexual reawakening), rather than machinery and physical deformations, A Snake of June might well be the thematic culmination of all of Tsukamoto’s past work. For the same reason it might also prove to be the most accessible point of entry for the uninitiated, illustrating that an artist doesn’t necessarily have to compromise his message in order to communicate with a larger audience.    

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Shinya Tsukamoto
A Snake of June/2002/Japan
Cinematography Shinya Tsukamoto

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