When you watch a film directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, there’s a guarantee that is so apparent it might as well come with a label on the front of the box. This guarantee is directly from Tsukamoto himself to you as the viewer. It says that when you watch one of his films, he will bombard you with new and amazing visual ideas that you probably never would have even thought were possible. With A Snake of June not only does Tsukamoto deliver a visually compelling film with innovative set-ups and uses of framing (as is his usual), but he essentially crafts his own color palette! Originally shot in black and white, the film is given a blue tint like that of the rain that consistently pours on our characters throughout the entire movie. The film is a mix of dark blues and light grays, crafting this concrete world where shadows mix with the dark and new horrors lay behind every corner. Although this film does deal with similar motifs as previous Tsukamoto works, such as Tetsuo, but it’s also an entirely different kind of beast. There’s that same fear of technology and industrialization but at the same time this is a Tsukamoto who wants to deliver a truly human story. Where Tetsuo was a shout out for all of humanity, in recent years Tsukamoto has tackled much more personal fair. A Snake of June is a film, like much of Tsukamoto’s work, that you can derive multiple ideas from but the one constant message seems to be: enjoy life. It’s a simple idea for a Tsukamoto film, but he does it in such a complex and grand way that it takes this simple principle and shows just how huge of an effect it can have on one persons life. Along the way he tackles things like Gender roles within marriage, sexual repression and societal guilt placed on sexual expressions within Japan. He takes on some very heavy issues in a film that has a very straight and linear structure. This may be Tsukamoto at his very best.
There are some really interesting character relationships throughout the film. Tsukamoto himself plays the role of the stalker character, who at the start of the film comes across as a monster due to the extreme trials that he puts our heroine through. However, and I won’t say that he becomes an angel or anything like that because I don’t think Tsukamoto ever comes out and says that what he does is the RIGHT way of doing things – but we learn that what he does do, is out of his own genuine love for the main character. Although he may not be expressing himself in a safe or constructive way, it is his way of showing that love – by allowing her to express her internal desires that she has kept locked away for so long. The relationship she has with her husband is tumultuous at best, with their home life being spent away from one another as much as physically possible. His character spends the majority of his time cleaning their house, a task that his wife takes offense to. The way in which he cleans as well, through the lens of Tsukamoto, is done so in what can only be described as a sexual fervor. The way that he scrubs their tub and other objects is highly frictional and you can’t help but see the sexual nature of it. Their love life however, is non-existent, with his energy and zest for life essentially being sucked dry from work. Then what little energy he reserves, is being used to satisfy his neat-freak mentality. So there’s this situation going on at home where the wife character is not being loved by her husband and she can’t even clean their apartment; so there comes a point in the movie where she will have to do something to her body that will result in her appearance seeming less feminine – but his character fights her on it! This husband character who essentially will not allow his wife to BE a woman within their home, is distraught to find that she might not actually bear the resemblance of one anymore. There’s so much going on with these characters and throughout the course of the film we get these games that are played over and over again.
A Snake of June is that perfect blend between artistic technical merit and literary depth. Although the script was apparently written originally by Tsukamoto some twenty years before ever being filmed, it remains an incredible breath of fresh air and remains current. Although knowing the perfectionist that Tsukamoto is, I’m sure there have been plenty of edits to the script over the years. You have the great script, which is a necessary ingredient for any great film but the visuals in Snake of June… I know I’ve already ranted on about them enough at this point, but I just want to make it abundantly clear: this is a visually arresting film. There’s a sequence, that is prominently featured in most artwork pertaining to the film, that revolves around the husband character being forced to be a voyeur of sorts. He’s kidnapped and placed in a room with several other men in suits, but all have their faces covered with a mask that resembles a cone. Through the end of it, everything appears in a blurred sphere but our character is able to see a young couple making love followed by their immediate deaths. An intense and nightmarish sequence that is made even more confounding by Tsukamoto’s assault on the senses. The music takes on this massive industrialized sounding orchestra of sounds, while Tsukamoto uses a wobbling camera that shakes and tilts as if it were at sea. He zooms in on his subjects quickly, without warning and uses his editing as a tool of violence, throwing us about left and right and damaging the audiences equilibrium. These scenes where the director takes us back to his hyper-kinetic past are all the more powerful because of the lull and conventionally shot (but still beautiful!) sequences that precede it. The technique is animalistic in its approach and that fits just fine alongside the intense performance of Asuka Kurosawa. A bold and incredibly brave project for the young actress, she reveals herself for the entire world to see. She exudes feminine charm when necessary, shows her weakness in times but is ferocious and sexual when unleashed. An amazing role that might just define her career. The sequence where Tsukamoto’s stalker character torments her inside of a mall is enthralling to sit through, because there’s so much to read into with her emotional rise and fall. An absolutely stunning performance to match a stunning film.