In Shinya Tsukamoto's A Snake Of June, a strange telephone call and a pack of photographs of a woman masturbating lead to such psychological mayhem that only unbridled sex seems to be the only salvation for those involved. Stephen Tan reviews.


In Shinya Tsukamoto's A Snake Of June (2002), repressed Asuka Kurosawa is a phone-in counsellor. Unknown to her cleanliness-obsessive husband, Yuji Kotari, Asuka has a libidinous side that comes out when she's alone. For sex, she masturbates since the couple never sleep together.

One day Asuka receives a package with a note, "secrets for your husband." Inside is a set of photos of Asuka masturbating. Later she receives another set of pictures of her snipping a skirt and turning it into a mini-skirt; and a handphone. Soon, she receives a call. The stranger/stalker seems not only to know Asuka's innermost feelings but is able to photograph her as well. Anxious to get the negatives, Asuka agrees to meet the stranger's demands - Asuka is to change into the mini-skirt (minus underwear) at a train station and buys and inserts a vibrator into herself after leaving the remote control at a designated space.


Needless to say, Asuka does get all shook up but she does get back her negatives, save one. The stranger tries to engage Asuka in another transaction but she ignores his approaches. However, the whole episode has a certain liberating effect and Asuka soon starts thinking about the stranger. It isn't long before she realises that the stranger was one of the people who were contemplating suicide that she was counselling. She also learns that he is dying from cancer but then in the process of taking pictures of her, he realises that she has breast cancer.

Feeling changed in the process, Asuka suggests one more trip to the station. She changes into her mini-skirt and does the vibrator routine. Unlike previously - in her uncertainty and perhaps shame - when she was practically trying to sort of hide behind her umbrella, this time, she confidently strides through the shopping mall, drawing admiring looks, before stripping in an alleyway in the pouring rain and photographed in sexual ecstasy by the stranger who is waiting in a car.

Unknown to Asuka, the entire incident is witnessed by husband Yuji. The stranger contacts Yuji who admits he wants the photographs. After an encounter where Yuji is beaten up by the stranger, Yuji rushes home and the couple soon overcomes all inhibitions to have the kind of sex they each want.

Sex, voyeurism and violence is nothing new to Shinya Tsukamoto but A Snake In June is very restrained for the director who gave the world Tetsuo and the image of a man who has a gigantic drill for a penis.

In an interview, Tsukamoto said: "The original idea I had was different from the film as it is now. More violent, more pornographic and more immoral. Over the years, elements from this idea found their way into the other films I made... The first half of this film is quite tough on the female character, but I didn't intend to make her miserable. I wanted the heroine to be happy in the end. I don't know why exactly, but when I look at my mother, who is part of a previous generation in which a woman's situation was more weak and aimed at supporting the man, I feel compassion for her and I get this urge to be supportive to women."

As to the title, A Snake In June, this is what Tsukamoto says: "Traditionally the woman is virtuous, but during the rainy season their sexuality is stimulated by the environment. You can sense this oozing feeling inside, which is like the movements of a snake." What helps sell the film is the strong performance by stage actress Asuka Kurosawa. Even with her in the nude, one experiences the frustrated core of her being rather than gawk at her.

While the notion of sex as a form of liberation is not new to cinema, Tsukamoto's film gives the idea a rigorous work out. Within the relatively short movie (77 minutes), the film, shot in blue-tinted monochrome, starts off as a sex thriller but veers off before ending as a psychological drama with a slight detour into "typical" Tsukamoto territory - can't avoid those biomechanical tentacles.

Some sexual games are deadly but Tsukamoto, who plays the stranger/stalker and who has nourished this project for at least 15 years, seems to find some catharsis himself as he notes: "Now that I've completed this film, I feel that I probably won't explore this theme of violence anymore in my future films. (With the exception of Tetsuo in America.)" In a Tsukamoto film, sex can be brutal, is seldom fun, but even the most repressed person can get something out of it.

Note: The A Snake Of June DVD (Tartan) is banned in $ingapore.

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May 8, 2007

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