“You’re not in touch with your feelings.”
Considering the majority of his work deals with the link of the body, our consciousness and the (often urban) environment, making a film about sexuality was perhaps just the logical next step in the career of Shinya Tsukamoto. In fact, the director admits having thought about that idea ever since the production of “Tetsuo: The Iron Man”, especially since both works demonstrate narrative and formal parallels. Much like this film’s premise the story for the project, which would later be called “A Snake of June”, also consisted of a minimalist environment in which a character is stalked and finally confronted by a villainous person.
However, it took him longer than expected to make “ A Snake of June”. In the end, this time benefited the project to a certain degree, Tsukamoto admits, for his relationship towards the opposite sex, his visual approach to the female body and sexuality has changed in these years. Eventually, what gave him the motivation to go back to his first idea was the rain season in Japan in June, a period of time defined by humidity, but also images like the beautiful colors of the hydrangea flowers. The blend of these visual influences finally constituted a fitting backdrop to a story about sexual liberation as writer Tom Mes states, but also maybe the most romantic movie Tsukamoto has made to this point.
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On the surface, the life of Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa) could not be better. Together with her husband (Yuji Kotari), she lives in a luxurious home and works part-time as a telephone counselor while he works for an important company. Through the years, she has managed to help many people by giving advice and listening to them so that she has come to establish a certain kind of routine. However, she has also noticed a distinct distance between her and her husband.
Suddenly, her life is completely changed when she receives a set of photographs showing her in very intimate moments. A former client of hers (played by Tsukamoto himself), whom she has managed to convince not to kill himself, somehow has given himself the goal of saving hers starting with exploring what her true desire is. In order to get to the negatives of the embarrassing pictures, he blackmails Rinko into giving in to her desire, not just privately but in public as well.
In an early scene, we can witness one of the most telling encounters between two characters, one which not only sets the tone for the film, but also hints at one of the major themes in the story. Comfortable in her small cubicle, Rinko gives advice to several people, and even though we do not hear the voices on the other end, there is little doubt about the seriousness of the problems Rinko and her colleagues deal with on a day-to-day basis. Obviously, a certain degree of routine has to be involved, but the encounter with one of the people she gave advice to shows the first cracks in that protective layer, one which displays Rinko’s doubts about the effect her counseling has on people. Although the encounter is eventually quite positive, with the character thanking her for the things she said on the phone and how helpful she has been, we witness the first suspicion of the phoniness of this world the characters live in.
In general, Shinya Tsukomoto’s characters have always demonstrated a distinct degree of social anxiety and emotional distance. Encouraged by the highly-technologized urban setting, characters like the salaryman in “Testuo: The Iron Man” or Goda in “Bullet Ballet” have found a (false) comfort in their protective bubble of solitude. While in those works an outside force is the trigger for the kind of change the characters go through, the most profound encounter in “A Snake of June” is facing your own body, naked, cold and vulnerable. However, we can also see a change from the world these previous films show, most significantly since Tsukamoto’s emphasis in the human body, the display of nakedness, weakness, even sickness is the true freedom from the deafening noise of modernity.
In terms of storytelling, Tsukomoto “disguises” these themes within genre elements, especially thriller. His character, a man named Iguchi, fits the profile of the “peeping tom” figure highlighted by his obsession with photography, recording people and control in general. Cleverly set up early as one of the many people Rinko has managed to help much of the suspense comes from his plan to assist the young woman the same way she helped him. However, the challenge is much more complicated since her husband suffers from the same kind of emotional distance and insistence on solitude his wife does. Similar to the use of photography in films like Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up”, it serves as a means to expose weakness or rather a side kept privately by the other person. Consequently, much of the suspense and thrill is the result of both characters wanting the negatives of these pictures, to destroy the evidence of their own weakness and maintain a more socially accepted mask.
Visually, the world of the film is a logical progression to the one shown in the director’s other films. Even though in interviews Tsukamoto describes the beauty of the rain season in Japan, he is also quick to admit the tension which can be felt within the constant humidity. Using a blue-ish filter throughout the entirety of the film, along with the suggestive score by Chu Ishikawa, he creates a universe which reflects both the emotional distance of the characters but also the idea of a profound transformation. At the very least, it displays the kind of hidden layer covered under the disguise of the urban sphere, a hidden society open to fulfill one’s desires.
Ultimately, “A Snake of June” tells a story about desire and liberation. Its masterful cinematography, great cast and music define this film as one of Tsukamoto’s most thought-provoking as well as sensual films to this day.
Mes, Tom (2005) Iron Man. The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto. FAB Press.
An interview referred to in the text is included in the blu ray release of the film by Third Window.