Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shinya Tsukamoto's A Snake of June (2002)

"I always felt that if I were to make an erotic film, I would use the image of skin covered with water drops. When it gets humid and hot in Japan a lot of girls start wearing miniskirts, which provokes some men to start stalking them. There is this kind of erotic atmosphere in the air around that time of year."


"During the rainy season, sexuality is stimulated by the environment. You can sense this oozing feeling inside, which is like the movements of a snake."
The two above quotes are from Shinya Tsukamoto in reference to his 2002 film, A Snake of June. If his film were nothing but images evoked from within his first quote, then Snake would still be devastating. If it were only a film of two sequences--of Rinko, portrayed by Asuka Kurosawa, taking two public walks, each in her miniskirt, both charged with two radically different emotions, then Snake would still tell its story. Finally, if the film were nothing but a series of animated still images, with their style monochromatic and shot in 1:1.33 aspect ratio, where Tsukamoto found inspiration in Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, and Bruce Weber, then Tsukamoto's rendition of images would still surpass many of his contemporaries working in the visual medium.Rinko works at a crisis center as a telephone counselor and receives anonymous calls from the public of tales of suicide and the like. She lives in quiet comfort with her salaryman husband, Shigehiko (Yuji Kohtari), who is often distant from Rinko and prefers to be alone reading or scrubbing the sink or the bathtub. Despite the lack of emotional intimacy in their relationship, each shares a comfort in its predictability and normalcy. One day Rinko receives in the mail an envelope containing a series of still photographs of her in repose or walking the streets; and as she flips through the numerous photographs (to be noted, not incidentally, artistically and professionally captured), the final series at the end of the stack reveals Rinko in quite an intimate moment and alone. Rinko feels understandably violated by this intrusion and overcome with fear of the photographer. When a cellular phone arrives via mail and its caller, a familiar voice to Rinko from her crisis center work, demands that Rinko reproduce her behavior evoked from the still photographic images, Rinko consents--seemingly only in exchange to receive the original negatives to the photos and to hopefully hide them away, not just from her husband but from the world.A Snake of June makes the heart beat fast: fear, excitement, and eroticism. The film's closest and most sensitive portrayal is in Rinko, not just with the camera's treatment but with her emotion. As she reluctantly begins her first display for the caller, who commands her from time to time to change her outfit, walk in a particular area, or perform some task, the fear and discomfort which radiates from Rinko is overwhelming. The caller attempts to coax Rinko into revealing her true sexual desires, as if the caller, by capturing Rinko alone and in an intimate moment, now possesses knowledge of her secrets. What the caller painfully and powerfully fails to recognize is those secrets and desires belong Rinko alone. The irony, of course, is what the caller desires most from Rinko, she later displays willingly and perhaps not solely for him. When Rinko uncoils, so to speak, the desire to do so does not come from the pitiful voice on the phone. Any excitement comes for the viewer at Rinko's expense and it's uncomfortable watching Rinko the subject to many a prying eye. Kurosawa gives a stellar performance, completely vulnerable, as Rinko.One of Tsukamoto's favorite motifs is the triangle, and the characters behind the caller and Kohtari's Shigehiko are revealed, in true Tsukamoto fashion, as not vehicles but well-drawn people. Their characters become the most revelatory during Rinko's second display in A Snake of June, which by this point is in Tsukamoto's world, opened, perhaps by a Pandora-ish Rinko.The bluish tint to the monochromatic images within A Snake of June are unique coming from a unique film maker. Tsukamoto is wholly successful in creating animated images which are evocative of his still-photographic inspiration. Most of the settings are clean and clinical, like the crisis center, Rinko and Shigehiko's home, and the myriad public places where Rinko walks. These are wonderfully and powerfully offset by Tsukamoto's subjective and artistic shots with especially the use of water in the scenery. The compositions are fantastic, and as always, Tsukamoto tells two stories always, one with his visuals and another with his narrative. A Snake of June is a strong mix of naturalistic scenes, scenes of man-made structures, and the beautifully imagined sequences where Tsukamoto journeys into dreamland. The atmosphere which Tsukamoto feels when "it gets humid and hot in Japan" is, finally, also successfully translated to his film.


All quotes from Tsukamoto and objective facts about the production are from Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto by Tom Mes, FAB Press, Surrey, England, U.K., 2005.

8 comments:

lights in the dusk said...

This is a very good introduction to my favourite Tsukamoto film from the absolute peak of his career. The run of features that includes Bullet Ballet, Gemini, the film in question, and Vital, which all, in one way or another, develop on the director's favourite theme of the limitations and fragility of the human body.

Hans A. said...

Thank you very much. Very kind of you to take time to read and share your thoughts (which I agree with).

Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention! This looks wonderfully shot. Great write up.

S

Hans A. said...

You're welcome, Sarah. Thnx for visiting and kind words!

Heavenztrash said...

I love this movie so much. It's one of my favorite Tsukamoto films, so beautifully shot, and you've done a great job of making me want to watch it again. Excellent review!

Hans A. said...

Thnx HT! I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment! I'd love to read your thoughts on more Tsukamoto. Your Survive Style 5 review made me want to revisit it again.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Tsukamoto, wasnt this the same director how made Tetsuo The Iron Man? That movie was amazing, it also explored sexuality, that scene with the drill and the girlfriend comes to mind.

I never got around to watching this directors other films, I think its about time I got down to it. It looks like a very different film in tone and look then Tetsuo.

Thanks for the review on this one!

Hans A. said...

You're welcome, Francisco! Yes, Tsukamoto also made Tetsuo. I hope you check out more of his flicks, as he is easily one of the best working today. Curious to hear your thoughts and thanks for visiting!