The Plot: Rinko Tatsumi (Asuka Kurosawa) is a phone operator at a mental health center, where she talks to those on the brink of suicide and persuades them to do the right thing. Her home life is extremely plain, her husband continually cleans around the house and seems disinterested in any kind of sexual relationship. Her life, as boring as it may be, seems content. Things are turned upside down though, when she receives a package in the mail that holds photographs of her. Photographs of her pleasuring herself in her apartment. The same man continues to send her packages in the mail with other lurid pictures before revealing himself to her as one of her callers from work. The man claims she has saved his life and now he wants her to have the sexual awakening she has always dreamed of. However, his methods are less than conscious of her feelings. He buys her an earbud and a cell phone so that he can direct her without the world catching on. He then has her visit the mall, wear an extremely short skirt that she made but never had the audacity to wear and then he has her visit an adult novelty shop to buy a vibrator. Driving her insane as she humiliates herself in public, her anger builds. However, who is this man really and what secret does he hide?

The Review
Despite the fact that I count him as one of my favorite filmmakers, the films of Shinya Tsukamoto haven’t been thoroughly delved into here on Varied Celluloid. My original reviews for Tetsuo and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer were written seven years ago and are no longer available on the site. As you can guess, my writing ability (which isn’t exactly academic at this point) wasn’t at its finest point; so why embarrass a quality product with such an improper review? So, with my sleeves rolled up and my thinking cap on; I am ready to tackle at least one film from this man’s impressive oeuvre. A Snake of June is vintage Shinya Tsukamoto, which is to say it is a mind blowing and a fresh bold look at what filmmaking should be. Sound like some pretty high honors to be throwing out there? Not if you know Shinya Tsukamoto. Hiding somewhere in the midst of Tokyo, a city he once described as a place that part of him loves, but also a place that another part of him would love to see destroyed. He’s an artist with some quirks to him, but there’s one constant fact that never changes about a Shinya Tsukamoto picture and that is; his work looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Visually, he may be the most impressive and consistent filmmaker since Andrei Tarkovsky. The two filmmakers couldn’t be any more drastically different in their content; one filmmaker a Russian catholic with lots of Christian imagery and slow moving meditations on death and the human struggle. The other, a Japanese artist who makes chaotic and adrenaline filled films about the alienation of the human spirit in confrontation with the technological movement in modern society. Two very different filmmakers who both make films that couldn’t possibly have been made by anyone else and who deliver(ed) breathtaking and bold new ideas with every single film.

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.

The Trivia
  • The snake penis apparatus is very similar to the one The Woman had in director Shinya Tsukamoto’s breakout film: Tetsuo.

  • To be a social worker in Japan, you must have a “home helper” license. Coincidentally, Asuka Kurosawa had recently acquired hers before filming. Part of the course to obtain the license is learning to communicate and talk with people in similar situations as those in the film, and so she was able to comfortably fit right into the role. So much so that Tsukamoto felt no need to direct her when she talked on the telephone within the film.

  • Yuji Kohtari, who plays Shigehiko the husband, says one of his onscreen influences is that of Marlon Brando. During the scene where Shigehiko is beaten upon, his character is seen faintly laughing/smiling – which he says was something he took from the climax to On the Waterfront.

  • In preperation to play his character, who is terminally ill, Shinya Tsukamoto lost eighteen pounds in order to look the part of an unhealthy man. Due to the weight loss and the immense physical demands of carrying around the camera on-set, Tsukamoto was actually taken away in an ambulance after filming one day.

  • The Conclusion
    Featuring some of the most amazing visuals of Shinya Tsukamoto’s career and a incredibly powerful script that delves heavily into themes and ideas that are both abstract and poignant at the same time, A Snake of June is the definition of cinematic power. Truthfully, I have a hard time discerning anything I may have disliked about the film or anything I would change. It’s certainly not a movie that is going to be for everyone. It deals with some taboo subjects and it’s still a bit on the abstract side at times – but an open minded film fan will be regaled with so many beautiful ideas that I’m sure most will find the incredible film that I did. Absolutely worth a look and deserving of my 5 out of 5 rating. Great cast, great direction and beautiful visuals. Hey, there’s even some famous actors appearing in cameos! See if you can spot Tsukamoto regular Tomorowo Taguchi and Takeshi Kitano regular Susumu Terrajima! Both are in there and were fun to spot. Now get out there and check it out!

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