Big camera. Strong flash: Thoughts on “A Snake of June”

“Don’t you have to follow your passion?”
A Snake of June begs the question.

A Snake of June
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Written by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Running time: 77 minutes
Language: Japanese

Stitched together from the mind of Japanese auteur Shinya Tsukamoto, A Snake of June is a psychosexual drama that roughly shares territory with Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Tsukamoto’s pulsing, excruciating style drives the movie, taking long breaths to draw out the agonizing sequences of tension.
Juxtaposed against the formal and conservative Japanese culture, June explores the relationship between the shy Rinko Tatsumi (Asuka Kurosawa), a “heart-to-heart” suicide hotline operator and her workaholic husband Shigehiko (Yuji Kohtari). The relationship is a loving, if distant one, which becomes destabilized by the actions of Iguchi (Shinya Tsukamoto), a commercial photographer who Rinko helps talk down at the start of the film.  Tsukamoto eschews his urban-industrial focus this time, with the film mainly taking place within a few notably modern spaces, including the couple’s spacious home.

Iguchi introduces himself into the relationship by way of blackmail, sending a package labeled “your husband’s secret” to Rinko. Within are photographs of Rinko solitarily engaged in lascivious activities. In order to obtain the rest of the photographs and the negatives, Rinko is forced to follow the instructions of Iguchi, which send her on a dizzying exploration of her sexuality. The attention drawn to her by the demands of Iguchi sends her into a state of delirium, and as the story progresses the dynamic between the two begins to escalate and shift.

Kurosawa’s performance accentuates the emotive states of the character throughout the film, and her exploration of the character becomes the point upon which the story rotates. Tsukamoto is not to be discounted, however, as he gives himself to his role as the voyeuristic and even tragic Iguchi. When the aforementioned shift occurs between Rinko and Iguchi, Iguchi breaks down and is revealed to be more than a simple pervert. Finding himself in desperate need, he begins to also stalk Shigehiko, his ever observant eye and attention to detail worming its way into the mind of the husband. His insidious tactics sow discord and suspicion into Shigehiko, which sends him on a journey of his own, culminating in an intense scene of voyeuristic climax.

From here it seems the Tsukamoto becomes as possessed by his passions as his characters do: the bizarre surrealism only hinted at earlier consumes the film and we see a violent return to the director’s signature industrial imagery, complete with an allusion to a certain Freudian image from Tsukamoto’s infamous Tetsuo. The film spins into a final climactic spiral, bombarding the audience with images and developments that bring the story to a close, though not exactly a conclusion.

The surrealistic atmospheres and open-ended close of the film once again call to mind Eyes Wide Shut, but the film opts to take what is almost an opposite approach. Where Kubrick’s look into sexuality took the inner conflict of one character and weaved it into a world that seemed to constantly serve as an agitator of the character’s psychological frame of mind, June creates a dynamic that calls out the inner desires of the three characters of the story, and weaves an intimate portrait of their descent as their passions consume them.

Tsukamoto’s monochrome cinematography drives this intimacy, exaggerating the emotive states of the trio by creating striking compositions that creates a character out of the spaces themselves. The modern spaces exemplify the comfort and structure of the world that the characters have up to this point lived in, which gives way the chaos of the industrial landscapes as they are consumed by their passions. Special mention should be given to the constant rain that saturates the atmosphere. Its steady downpour provide both a visual and aural rhythm that gives the imagery of the film weight and brings with it a theme of constant flow, and change. The film extends it’s sexual themes with imagery of snails, a symbol representing both sexes, due to their hermaphroditic nature.

Tsukamoto also extends the theme of voyeurism, with the camera itself becoming a tool of pleasure. The constant return to the world of lenses and photographs provides insight into the mind of both Tsukamoto as both a character and a director.
By casting himself in the part of the voyeur, Tsukamoto has drawn attention the voyeuristic relationship between the subject and the photographer, but also the relationship of the audience with the film. The acts of viewing and being watched become pleasures within themselves, a relationship shared by the director, the actors, and the audience as well. The camera is the eye that we gaze through, and as we do it becomes an instrument of pleasure for those on both sides of the lens.

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