Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Asuka Kurosawa, Yuji Koutari, Shinya Tsukamoto
Running time: 77mins
The lowdown: Forget 50 Shades of Grey, only one shade of blue is required for this dark, not easily forgotten erotic oddity. Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Gemini director Shinya Tsukamoto’s 2002 movie is a surreal love story that encompasses sexual repression, voyeurism and male/female anxieties… in the opening 15 minutes. Asuka Kurosawa (relation?) is the striking buttoned down woman targeted by an enigmatic stalker played by Tsukamoto himself, who leads her into a world of fear and desire.
The full verdict: Given a handsome Blu-ray release by the good folk at Third Window Films, A Snake of June’s visual mysteries have never looked so good.
Shot in black and white, but given a visual blue tinge to disguise the graininess of blowing up 16mm to 35mm, its Academy ratio screen shape (i.e. the shape of old TV screens) is well-suited to a tale of entrapment and claustrophobia in the ironically sprawling Tokyo metropolis.
Fittingly for a film about voyeurism and the controlling gaze, it’s a movie of brimming with visual motifs and clues. Set during Japan’s summer rainy season, water is omnipresent, both soaking characters in shame and washing away guilt, and tumbling down drains emblazoned with a very pointed kanji symbol for “gateway”.
Elsewhere, the concentric circle of a snail’s shell (gastropods are at home in the wet) also signals the spiral downward of the characters into a dangerous, exotic world located just below the middle class comfort of Rinko (Kurosawa) and her doughy, older husband, Shigehiko (Koutari).
Rinko is a mental health professional at a call-in centre, helping people through depression. Her life is thrown into turmoil when one of her callers (Tsukamoto) begins sending explicit images of her and demands she parades her sexuality in public via revealing outfits and hidden sex toys.
Then he targets Shigehiko taking him into a dehumanised sexual netherworld that plays like the imaginings of Terry Gilliam in a kinky mood.
Charged with a memorable, dark sexuality, 13 years since release A Snake of June confirms how dreary and prosaic 50 Shades of Grey actually is. Or most current films boasting unsimulated sex, despite Tsukamoto’s movie featuring little actual graphic content (although von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is a kissing cousin).
Whether this is female empowerment or female enslavement is up for debate, but it’s certainly equal opportunities in its dismay at relationships between the sexes; Shigehiko is impotent, locked in masturbatory voyeurism, while Tsukamoto’s stalker may not be quite the dominating figure he first appears.
Bold, atmospheric and memorable on sexuality this is a welcome re-release of an arguably forgotten fascinating film.
Picture: Shinya Tsukamoto oversaw the HD restoration and it is presented here in full 1080p Blu-ray. For a film about surfaces and textures, the crisp and detailed picture quality is welcome.
Extras: A generous collection of support features for an important, but arguably forgotten film.
A twenty minute 2002 behind the scenes documentary titled Shooting a Snake of June provides a wealth of production footage, and goes into great detail about the technical aspects of the film.
Tsukamoto picks up on some of his points again in the recent An Interview with Director Shinya Tsukamoto. Over 26 minutes he recounts making the films, decisions he made and what his goals were in making the film.
Japanese film expert Tom Mes, author of Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto is well-qualified to provide a commentary on this film. He provides a good biography of the director that will interest those aware of Tsukamoto as well the uninitiated, and puts this film in context of erotic cinema. Plenty of details about the cast and production, plus the filmmaker’s recurring themes make this a talk track that enriches future viewings of the film.