Shinya Tsukamoto made his name with body horror infused, pulsing cult hits such as Tetsuo the Iron Man, Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet (all of which are also available in the UK on Blu-ray courtesy of Third Window Films). He’s no stranger to the avant-garde, the surreal or the troubling, but even then A Snake of June takes things one step further than even his generally intense filmmaking would usually go. A literal “blue movie”, A Snake of June is the story of one woman’s sexual awakening, her husband’s release from OCD and the final fulfilment of the couple’s relationship set against the backdrop of a cold and unfeeling city.
Rinko is an attractive, if slightly mousy, young woman who works as a telephone counsellor at a Samaritans-like call centre. As for her homelife, she lives in an upscale Tokyo apartment with her salaryman husband Shigehiko. It’s unkind to say, but the couple are a total mismatch - Rinko, young and pretty even if a little shy, is obviously way out of her slightly overweight, balding middle aged husband’s league. Though they seem to have a pleasant enough relationship, there’s no spark between them and they live more like friends or roommates than a married couple. Shigehiko also has an extreme love of cleaning and a touch of OCD that sees him more often caressing the bathtub rather than his wife.
All that changes however when Rinko receives a mysterious envelope full of voyeuristic photos of her masturbating and looking up erotic material on the Internet. Soon enough it turns out these are a “gift” from a troubled photographer, Iguchi, who had planned to commit suicide before talking to Rinko on the helpline. Now he wants to help her by encouraging her to embrace her sexuality and her deepest, darkest desires. Iguchi sets her several tasks to set her on her way, such as buying sex toys and walking through town in revealing outfits in an attempt to make her more comfortable with her own sexuality. However, having watched Rinko blossom, Iguchi eventually turns his attention to her husband and events take a decided turn for the surreal.
Erotic - yes, in some senses of the word, but never exploitative. Shot in a melancholy blue designed to mimic the color of the falling rainwater that stains a rainy season June in Tokyo, A Snake of June is a neon inflected journey into urban isolation where the demands of city life drown out the inner fire of those who live in it. Shy and repressed Rinko makes her first foray into town wearing the ridiculously short skirt her blackmailer has “prescribed” for her nervously, clutching a long umbrella in front of her like a shield. Making the same journey sometime later Rinko walks with a swagger; almost dancingly flirtatious she owns herself - her former shield is now a sword. Her “awakening” has nothing to do with her husband or with Iguchi, it’s something she’s achieved for herself and by herself and has left her a happier and more complete person than she’s previously been allowed to be.
Her husband, Shigehiko, by contrast hasn’t quite come to terms with this new version of his wife and even when graphically confronted with it responds in an entirely passive, selfish way. Cracking Shigehiko’s shell will require a little more than gentle coaxing, manipulation and blackmail and thus begins the nightmarish second "volume" of the film which becomes increasingly bizarre from here on out. Strange drowning themed sex shows where a woman bangs a drum and you have to wear a funny cone on your face which only lets you view everything through a tiny circle like the iris of a an old silent movie? It’s certainly an unorthodox solution.
Like all of Tsukamoto’s work, A Snake of June is exquisitely shot with its blue tint only adding to its native beauty. This new Blu-ray edition from Third Window Films, remastered from the original negative and supervised by Tsukamoto himself, is a pristine presentation of the film which reveals all the tiny details that were rendered invisible by previous transfers. Strange and surreal, A Snake of June is a richly multilayered film dripping with symbolism, not to mention urban melancholy, that has lost none of its power in the intervening years since its shocking debut.