A Snake of June

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Tsukamoto's last film was GEMINI, way back in 1999 (it seems a long time ago to me anyhow). On that film, as with his earlier HIRUKO THE GOBLIN (1991), Tsukamoto served as a director for hire (tellingly, these are also the only two films he has directed in which he doesn't also act). Since then he's turned in a couple of memorable but minor performances in Takashi Miike's DOA 2 (2000) and ICHI THE KILLER (2001), as well as acting in several other films. However, it's great to see him back behind the camera as well as in front of it, with this, his return to the very personal and intense style of film-making last seen in BULLET BALLET (1998).

Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa, from Mitsuo Yanagimachi's 1993 film ABOUT LOVE, TOKYO, as well as many Japanese TV dramas) is a successful telephone counsellor at a mental health hospital. She is married to an important business man, Shigehiko (Yuji Koutari, whose only other film credit is for Kenchi Iwamoto's 1993 film MONKEYS IN PARADISE), who is obsessive about cleanliness and unable to express his feelings physically towards her. Despite this, they seem to have a fairly happy marriage and are financially comfortable.

One day, Rinko receives two envelopes in the post. The first contains a package with 'Your Husband's Secrets' written on it. Inside are a number of photos of Rinko masturbating in the rain. The other package contains a mobile phone, which starts to ring. Rinko answers it and the man on the other end tells her that he wants her to put on her tiny miniskirt and go out into the rainy street. She refuses, but he calls back, blackmailing her over the negatives to the photos. Rinko gives in, but buys an electric self-defence weapon just in case. On the given day she heads to the subway station, communicating with the blackmailer, whose name is Iguchi (played by Tsukamoto), through headphones and a mouth piece. He tells her to get changed in the toilets and to remove her underwear. She then walks through the arcade to another toilet. Iguchi now tells her that she has to go and buy a vibrator. She reluctantly agrees and returns to the toilet. Iguchi now tells her that she has to put the vibrator in and go back out, leaving the remote control for it (I didn't even realise remote control vibrators existed!) at the door to the toilet. This she does, and goes to a fruit stall to buy some rather suggestive items. Just as she is about to pay, Iguchi turns on the vibrator, causing her to act very strangely. She returns to the toilet and finds the negatives awaiting her. Rinko realises that Iguchi was someone she counselled when he was feeling suicidal. However, that's not the end of the story by any means

Shigehiko is soon drawn into Iguchi's weird games and by the end of the film it is unclear where the line between the real world and Shigehiko's fantasies lies

For this film, Tsukamoto has returned to the monochrome photography that suits his style so well, and was used to such good effect in TETSUO THE IRON MAN (1989) and BULLET BALLET (1998), yet is in complete contrast to the gorgeous colour-drenched images he produced for GEMINI. This time he uses a blue filter too ("The finished film was illuminated by a single drawing I did as a child

of a snail on a hydrangea

When I recall that drawing, the transparent blue air around the hydrangea comes back to me. When I came to make this film set in the rainy season, that blue colour seemed to set the direction I should take", explains the director). Also, the film is presented 4:3, unusual these days, and the first time Tsukamoto has avoided widescreen photography since TETSUO. "Instead of the cinemascope size of pinku eiga, I thought about not shrinking the screen too much, but of making it square-shaped, one person-size", Tsukamoto says. Tsukamoto's long-time collaborator Chu Ishikawa provides the dreamy jazzy score (HIRUKO THE GOBLIN is the only Tsukamoto film not to feature an Ishikawa score), a complete departure from his other industrial/loud work for Tsukamoto and Miike.

The twisted love triangle theme of the film is familiar from other Tsukamoto works (most notably TOKYO FIST (1995), BULLET BALLET and GEMINI, but also present in TETSUO I and II (1992)), whilst the idea of an odd stranger interfering in a family's lives with unexpected results is reminiscent of Miike's VISITOR Q (2001). Having said that, with A SNAKE OF JUNE Tsukamoto once again manages to make a completely original, challenging film, whilst exploring the taboo issue of female sexuality in a non-pornographic, though still explicit fashion. Along the way he incorporates such major issues as guilt, loyalty, cancer, responsibility, love and, of course, violence, somehow managing to squeeze all of this into a tight 77 minute run time. Tsukamoto has talked about wanting to make this film for the past ten to fifteen years, and admits that it has evolved considerably from his original premise, which would have been much more brutal "an immoral tale that would make the juices flow in the mouth" he says.

Although considerably more restrained than his earlier work, the film still manages to be very intense and does feature a good deal of the director's trademark shaky hand-held camerawork. There are also two bizarre sequences that are much more in keeping with his past work, one involving a strange, seemingly organic hose, which will please all fans of TETSUO! As with his other more personal projects, Tsukamoto not only acts, writes and directs but takes on a whole range of other behind-the-camera activities (editing, art direction, cinematography and production). The result is a very intimate film, surprisingly non-confrontational in nature "If you can hear the faint cries of the characters welling up from the bottom of the darkness, I'll be happy" states Tsukamoto.

Reviewed by Tom Foster