Review: ‘A Snake of June’

Shinya Tsukamoto undertakes an exploration of sexual extremes in "A Snake of June." This tale of a frustrated housewife manipulated by a phone stalker creates a coldly erotic world that's both intimate and impersonal. Pic was awarded the Special Jury Prize in Venice's alternative Upstream competition.

Detouring tangentially from his dark universe of metal, mutation, invasive technology, bodily transformation and decay, Shinya Tsukamoto undertakes a more conventionally corporeal but no less bizarre exploration of sexual extremes in “A Snake of June.” A project cultivated for more than 10 years, this compelling tale of a frustrated housewife manipulated by a twisted phone stalker creates a coldly erotic world that’s both intimate and impersonal. Awarded the Special Jury Prize in Venice’s alternative Upstream competition, it should intrigue the Japanese maverick’s followers in fest showings and specialized video/DVD release.

An attractive phone counselor at a psychiatric clinic, Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa) lives in apparent harmony with her older businessman husband Shigehiko (Yuji Koutari). While she clearly loves him, the absence of physical contact between them is compounded by his workaholic nature and obsession with personal hygiene.

Rinko’s orderly world is thrown off balance by the arrival of an anonymous letter containing photos of her masturbating. Gradually revealed to be her former patient Igushi (Tsukamoto), the sender contacts her by phone, steering the woman through a sexual odyssey in which he forces her to uncover her hidden desires.

Despite the erotic nature of Rinko’s journey — she’s ordered to discard her underwear and parade publicly in revealing skirts, then make friends with a vibrator remote-controlled by Igushi — Tsukamoto’s interest lies less in these more lurid aspects than in the woman’s awakening to the pleasures of her body and to life itself. Rinko’s self-discovery is compromised, however, when she learns she has breast cancer, instilling in her a sense of vulnerability shared by the terminally ill stalker.

While continuing to work with increasingly compliant Rinko, Igushi also exerts his influence on Shigehiko, who discovers one of the incriminating photos. In a sequence of events not grounded by the most lucid plotting, Shigehiko is led to a strange David Lynchian locale, where men witness disturbing sexual scenes through special viewing masks. He hides in an alley to watch Rinko strip and masturbate in the rain, then is brutally chastened by Igushi for his selfishness toward his wife.

The parallel enlightenment of Rinko and Shigehiko eventually brings them closer together and reignites the spark in their marriage. Given the progression from dark themes of manipulation and control to a conclusion of recovery and renewal, this is an uncharacteristically optimistic film for the director.

In addition to supplying an edgy turn as the triangle’s diseased but liberating force, multihyphenate Tsukamoto produced, directed, scripted, edited and art-directed the film. He also handled lensing duties in bracing, blue-toned black-and-white, giving the corrosive, steely visuals further density and texture through the atmospheric choice to set the action during the wet season, against constant sheets of rain. Soundtrack makes good use of mournful strings, solemn choral music and a thundering requiem.

A Snake of June

Japan

Production

A Kaijyu Theater production. (International sales: Gold View Co., Tokyo.) Produced, directed, written, edited by Shinya Tsukamoto.

Crew

Camera (B&W), Tsukamoto; music, Chu Ishikawa; art director, Tsukamoto; costume designer, Hiroko Iwasaki; sound (DTS Stereo); associate producer, Shin-Ichi Kawahara. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing, Upstream), Sept. 1, 2002. (Also in Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 77 MIN.

With

Rinko - Asuka Kurosawa Shigehiko - Yuji Koutari Igushi - Shinya Tsukamoto
With: Tomoro Taguchi, Susume Terajima, Mansaku Fuwa, Teruko Hanahara.
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