Unsettling, perverse and weird, the Japanese and disturbingly erotic A Snake of June is a film from Shinya Tsukamoto, the director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), which is one of the most horrifying, head-fucking, bad-trip SF films of all time. That film involved a man who started to mutate into a cyborg in the messiest, most nightmarish way imaginable. This 2002 film isn’t as horrifying in terms of sensory overload, but it’s still quite a ride – transgressive, troubling and compelling.
Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa) is a call-centre worker for what I assume are the Samaritans, and she’s married to Shigehiko (Yuji Koutari), who spends all the time he’s not at work obsessively cleaning their home. It’s a very neat, tidy environment and a very neat, tidy relationship, but Rinko’s serenity is disrupted when she recieves some photos in the post, photos taken of her by a stranger without her knowledge, and these are pictures of her trying on a mini skirt alone at home and as well as pictures of her masturbating. There’s also a mobile phone in the delivery, and it turns out that the photographer is someone she helped via her call centre work. She saved his life, and now it’s time to save hers, or at the very least ‘liberate’ it. This means getting her to embrace her desires, such as having the nerve to wear that mini skirt she put on in private out in public, as well as buying a vibrator and… well, I won’t spoil anymore of it, but the first half of this film is a classic of escalating tension. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio tightens the frame and emphasises the claustrophobic, inescapable situation poor Rinko finds herself in. Then there’s the blurring between what clearly looks, sounds and well, is victimisation but also suggests sexual freedom – could it be that her mystery tormenter is genuinely helping her? It’s a grey area, and one that’s as disturbing as it is beguiling. The decision to tint the picture in a cool, serene blue only helps to lure us further into this troubling world. It also rains all the time, which could represent the deluge of sexual abandon that’s unstoppable once it’s been tapped.
I suppose it should be stated that the world in which Rinko and her husband live in seems very repressed, and not just their home environment. It’s precisely the cityscape where wearing a miniskirt in a world of suits and buttoned-down decorum really is going to turn heads, where the only evidence of a sexual undercurrent is the out of the way shop where Rinko is forced to buy her vibrator. Yet as inevitable as the rain, repression will only push things to bursting point, and by the end the film is pretty much out there in a back street masturbating in a downpour in a scene that is exhilarating as it is weird. I have to say the film loses focus for me when it decides to follow the husband on his journey, mainly because he’s not as sympathetic a character, plus Tsukamoto (who interestingly, also plays the part of Rinko’s tormenter) throws in some surrealistic, mad elements such as a freaky peep show, a smackdown involving a tentacle (natch) and some odd behaviour with a gun that don’t have the same punch as the scary intimacy of the first half. Nevertheless, it’s a striking, beautiful, disquieting experience, and at only 76 or so minutes, it does what it does with lean, effective brevity.