Friday, 15 July 2011

A Snake of June (2002)

Country: JAPAN

Rokugatsu no hebi

Cult Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto has time and again proven himself to be the perfect embodiment of what is traditionally understood as an auteur. From the moment he exploded in a shower of twisted metal onto the international scene with his dystopian tale of bodily transformation Tetsuo (1989), he has written, directed, produced, and designed a raft of uniquely distinctive and unusual feature films. In the years since the hyper-stylised avant-garde formalism of Tetsuo, Tsukamoto’s visual experimentalism has mellowed somewhat. But films such as Hiruko the Goblin (1991), Tokyo Fist (1995), Bullet Ballet (1998) and Vital (2004) continue to document his fascination with the human body.  Whether it be in states of decay or in revolt. The revolution of the human body in the face of a decaying urbanisation is a persistent theme of his work. In his films technology and capitalism are rendered banal and are often the initial cause for an evolution of the flesh. Tsukamoto’s vision is at times a unique one, but it is couched within stylistic and thematic terms which evoke the industrialised dreamscapes of David Lynch, and the grotesque body horror of David Cronenberg. His own influence can be felt on filmmakers such as Darren Aronofsky, Takashi Miike and Jan Kounen. Tsukamoto is also fiercely independent and through his own production company Kaijyu Theatre commands complete autonomy and the freedom too express his innermost fantasies.

In terms of narrative structure his 2002 effort A Snake of June has to be considered one of his more straightforward films. Although the plot becomes muddied later on in the film, the story unfolds in a manner which is largely understandable. The challenge of this film lies more within the perversity of its sexual content. The statuesque Asuka Kurosawa plays Rinko Tatsumi a woman who spends her working hours talking people out of committing suicide, and her leisure time trapped within a barren domestic existence. Rinko brings a whole new meaning to the phrase sexually repressed, and this is due to the lack of interest shown in her, by her much older husband Shigehiko (Yuji Kohtari). He prefers to spend his time scrubbing the bath clean. His fetishism for cleanliness a substitute for his inability to get it up. They sleep in separate rooms and lead hollow and isolated lives. Too alleviate her frustrations Rinko masturbates and struts around the empty apartment in a short leather skirt. Unfortunately for Rinko a photographer with an incurable cancer whom she earlier convinced not to commit suicide, has been documenting her solo nocturnal orgasms. The film steadily builds up themes of voyeurism, alienation, and sexual obsession with economy in the first half. This half of the film is intriguing because we are never sure of the blackmailer Iguchi’s (played by the director) intentions and motivation. His initial interest is totally focused on forcing Rinko to face up too and express her innermost sexual desires.

To do this he blackmails her into wearing her leather mini skirt (minus panties of course!) and parade in it through a busy shopping centre. Rinko is almost paralysed with self-conscious terror and lacks the courage to show off her beautiful legs by walking with confidence. Her situation becomes worse when Iguchi orders her to purchase a remote control vibrator from a seedy sex shop, a device he soon gains control of. Rinko’s humiliation at the hands of an unseen male is highly disturbing, but her baptism of exhibitionist fire proves to be the beginning of a new sexual dawn for her. For all of his blackmailing cruelty the dying Iguchi is ultimately proven to be correct. Iguchi is motivated by the need to reward Rinko for her understanding and sympathy at the time of his lowest ebb. He gives Rinko an opportunity for a rebirth of sorts, and her transformation into stunning sex goddess is complete in an arresting scene in which Rinko explores her naked body in a torrential downpour of rain.

While Iguchi’s diseased and cancerous cells transform him from the inside out, Rinko’s weary and sterile marriage is also transformed by her husbands slow but dawning awareness of his wife’s newly found sexual expression. The idiot still needs convincing of this new reality by the increasingly annoyed Iguchi. This reaches a violent climax when Iguchi kicks the crap out of Shigehiko whilst wearing a twenty foot dildo! The film was shot during Japan’s rainy season, and not a scene goes by without the incessant rains battering down. This works particularly well in tandem with the cool blue filters that Tsukamoto chooses to shoot every scene in. Even so this must rate as one of the wettest films ever made. It also adds the requisite Tsukamoto atmosphere of claustrophobia and urban alienation. The persistence of water may well work as a symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation, but equally, it could also be a purely stylistic choice. A Snake of June is a mind bending tale of psycho-sexual perversity. It is a very kinky little film that ultimately seems to have pretensions to be something more than the perverse sexploitation film it is.

© Shaun Anderson 2011

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