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A SNAKE OF JUNE (Rokugatsu no hebi)(director/writer: Shinya Tsukamoto; cinematographer: Shinya Tsukamoto; editor: Shinya Tsukamoto; music: Chu Ishikawa; cast: Asuka Kurosawa (Rinko Tatsumi), Yuji Koutari (Shigehiko), Shinya Tsukamoto (Iguchi); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Shinya Tsukamoto; HK Video; 2002-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Never turns the corner from being fantasy-porn.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Shinya Tsukamoto (“Tetsuo”) is known as the Japanese filmmaker of poetical sexual hysteria and Japan’s answer to David Cronenberg and David Lynch. A Snake of June is smartly shot in monochrome but printed on color stock through electric blue-tinted filters (which gives it a darkly rich b/w look). Tsukamoto fessed up he was influenced by Tsai Ming-Liang’s much superior Vive l’amour, though this has been a pet idea of his for the last ten years–only in the wait it has grown into a much darker tale than first realized. It fails to be much more than sedate sleaze, a sexploitation film that wants to say something personal about the repressive and impersonal nature of Japanese society, but never turns the corner from being fantasy-porn. This most erotic drama keys in on urban angst and sexual repression as major problems in modern Japan (Japan is becoming all concrete and its citizens have lost touch with nature and thereby themselves).

It’s set during Japan’s rainy season, as in every scene it’s pouring. It follows suicide phone counselor for a mental health center, Rinko Tatsumi (Asuka Kurosawa), who is locked into a loveless but comfortable middle-class marriage with an anal-compulsive, portly, workaholic ‘salaryman,’ much older, Shigehiko (Yuji Koutari). One day she receives a packet of photos of herself masturbating in the privacy of her bedroom, and the stalker calls ordering her to follow his instructions of going around the unnamed city to designated spots where she’s ordered to masturbate as the blackmailer uses a cell phone and a remote control vibrator. Anxious not to have her uptight hubby know and to retrieve the negatives, she goes along with the stalker’s invasive sexual requests for her to act out his sicko fantasies as he promises his aim is not to get into her pants. The blackmailer, who it turns out was a former suicidal caller of hers named Iguchi (Shinya Tsukamoto, none other than the director), will in the second half of the film turn his attention on Shigehiko and the results will be terrifying before they are gratifying.

It’s kinky, disturbing, uniquely photographed but, when it becomes clear this is a forced self-help remedy to get the dysfunctional couple to be intimate again, it loses the mysterious flavor it had by having such a banal aim. The film works best as a stunning photo show that makes an anonymous city come to life through the stylistic cinematography. It’s only a shame the provocative film smacked so much of arty pretense, emotional distancing, enigmatic plot devices to only bring about a conventional plot and gimmicks (snake-like appendages are attached to the stalker’s bod by a corset). I felt too much the manipulations of the filmmaker as a control-freak on and off the camera, and it never seemed clear to me what he was driving at by having the couple also be control-freaks.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”