Shigehiko (Yuji Kotari) is an older man who lives a very staid life in his Tokyo apartment. A commuter to his place of business by day, an obsessive cleaner by night, he is essentially a drone ant who has no interest in satisfying his younger, somewhat meek wife, suicide counsellor Rinku (Asuka Kurosawa).
Rinku never complains about her boring life. But she does fantasise of more exciting times. As one of her former clients, keen photographer Iguchi (writer-director Shinya Tsukamoto) knows. He starts sending her envelopes with photographs he's taken of her in her apartment, in which she can be seen dressing in tight leather mini-skirts, dolling herself up in make-up and masturbating in her bathroom.
He very quickly reveals himself as the sender of the ill-gained snaps, posting a mobile telephone to her which rings as soon as she opens the envelope containing it (convenient?). He tells her to put the mini-skirt on and walk into the street with it, and pleasure herself as per the photos he keeps. "Let people see the real you", he insists.
After much fretting, Rinku obliges. Speaking to her through a remote earpiece device, her stalker then requests that she buys a vibrator. She's horrified by the suggestion to begin with, but he reasons - rather strongly - that this is what she wants. Quivering, she once again obliges.
"I'm telling you to do what you want ... be happy", Iguchi continues over the airwaves, taunting Rinku to explore her repressed desires further. And this she duly does, behind her husband's back initially. As Iguchi's suggestions become more profound, grounded in his urge to help Rinku attain the enlightenment that she gave to him in her life-saving telephone conversation with him during his darkest hour, both her loyalties and societal morals are put to the ultimate test.
Cue lots of kinky (though curiously restrained) episodes and dreamlike moments - the audience grouped to watch a show through bizarre VIDEODROME-esque masks, anyone?
The plot becomes increasingly bizarre, the images more provocative and the subject matter darker (cancer; a direct challenge to how alien people can be to one another while sharing the same bed - a take on Tsukamoto's traditional allegory for the isolating nature of modern life) as ASNAKE OF JUNE gathers steam while heading towards its memorably out-there finale ...
Obsession with the body and its ability to influence its environment is a familiar theme within Tsukamoto's oeuvre, but A SNAKE OF JUNE plays less into the Cronenbergian excesses of TETSUO: THE IRON MAN or TOKYO FIST and instead favours a twisted take on erotica. The compelling strings-led score lends gravity, as do the frequent offbeat cutaways to footage of rain-soaked plants with snails crawling over them (June is a typically wet month in Japan, apparently, albeit humid; the snails are a frequent sight).
Tokyo is portrayed here as an icily cold place, where rain pours incessantly and people jostle against each other in the busy, uncaring streets. The aloofness is emphasised by a cold blue hue which persists throughout.
Typically lean (76 minutes) and free from narrative frills, A SNAKE OF JUNE also plays on familiar Tsukamoto tropes such as intense performances, moments of surreal visual beauty and an escalation of nightmarish violence that leads to the most bizarre form of catharsis.
Arguably the director's least immediate film, there's no denying however that this is a bold, original and highly gratifying prospect for anyone willing to dig beneath its surface.
Continuing their love for Tsukamoto's singular brand of cinema, Third Window Films follow up their sterling special editions of his works - other releases so far have included TETSUO 1 & 2, TOKYO FIST, BULLET BALLET and KOTOKO - with a features-packed blu-ray set for A SNAKE OF JUNE.
The film itself, on their blu-ray disc, looks better than ever in a new director-approved 1080p HD transfer from the original negative. Presented as an MPEG4-AVC file in its original 1.37:1 ratio, the colour timing is bluer and deeper than it has been previously - lending the film even more of a cold noirish style, while detail is greatly enhanced over previous DVD releases and blacks hold up incredibly well throughout. Its low budget is still evident, but the filmic nature of the presentation is far more apparent and convincing here.
Japanese audio is treated to a rousing, clean and consistent 5.1 DTS-HD mix. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a pop-up scene selection menu allows access to the film via 16 chapters.
First up on the extras front is a commentary track from the always-excellent Tom Mes. An expert on Japanese cinema and author of the superb Tsukamoto book "Iron Man", Mes is the perfect person to proffer an English language track on this film. He doesn't disappoint. Speaking easily and pausing casually throughout, he takes us through the film's influences (beginning with a tale that goes all the way back to the director's school days), discussing the look of the movie and speaking of how this film was a landmark one for Tsukamoto thematically. He also makes a persuasive argument that this, along with TOKYO FIST, is possibly Tsukamoto's most feminist film - despite what first impressions may suggest.
Next we get a great 26-minute onscreen interview with a thoughtful, chatty Tsukamoto. He explains how this 2002 film had stemmed from an idea he'd had since the late 80s, how it was influence by erotic literature from the likes of Edogawa Rampo, the reason behind the film's enigmatic title and much more. A warmer persona than seen in previous interviews, Tsukamoto comes across as genuinely interested in giving himself here - perhaps it's the hat, beard and short-sleeved shirt - who knows. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
"Shooting A SNAKE OF JUNE" is an archive 20-minute interview with the director which finds him looking extremely young as he - hat firmly in place - discusses his bid for eroticism in the film, and the importance of its distinctive visual style. Associate producer Shinichi Kawahara explains the pratfalls of shooting on low-quality stock in black-and-white and then blowing it up to 35mm, and how that influenced the manner in which SNAKE's shoot proceeded. Colour timer Masaharu Oomi explains the process further, in this window-boxed presentation. Again, this comes with Japanese audio and English subtitles.
A SNAKE OF JUNE's original trailer is also provided, along with trailers for TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, TETSUO 2: BODY HAMMER, TOKYO FIST, BULLET BALLET and KOTOKO - all of which, as mentioned earlier, are also available on both DVD and blu-ray from Third Window Films.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Third Window Films|
|see main review|