Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Snake of June (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2002)

Asuka Kurosawa as Rinko in Tsukamoto's A Snake of June (2002).

A Snake of June takes place in a rainy Tokyo where Rinko works as a psychological counsellor at a call center. She seems to lead a normal life with her older husband, Shigehiko, who's something of an obsessive compulsive when it comes to cleaning. The reason seems to be a fear of or unwillingness to be close to Rinko. Shigehiko not only rather cleans than spends time with her, he also pretends to fall asleep in a chair at night to avoid sleeping next to her. There is no question that they still respect each other and that Rinko has feelings for Shigehiko, but he seems emotionless and their marriage is devoid of physical intimacy. The following text contains spoilers.

One day Rinko recieves a package containing photographs of her masturbating and then a phone call from one of her callers at work who says that he took the photos. If Rinko wants the negatives, she has to wear a short skirt, which she only wears alone at home, without any underwear out in public. Apparently the caller, Iguchi, is a stalker who has been taking pictures of her for a while, and who has also recognized the frustrations in Rinko's marriage. Iguchi is a photographer who has been unable to take pictures of people, turning in photos of sexual objects to an adult magazine, but talking to Rinko and stalking her has made him able to photograph people again, namely Rinko. For this he wants to pay her back by helping her get in touch with her sexuality again and to be her true self and do what she really wants to do.

At first it's not easy to accept that a stalker forcing Rinko to do something against her will is what will release her from her repressions, but the way the film is constructed turns Iguchi more into a part of Rinko's subconscious than a physical character. He's just a voice on the phone, telling her things that is what she really wants to do and he never feels like a threat to her. He has pictures of her but he only threatens to show them to Shigehiko. There is never any physical meeting or violence between them. Soon it becomes clear that Rinko is the one in control as she uses Iguchi to make her husband jealous by letting him find one of the photographs and by that resurrect his feelings for her.

Now I'm no expert on Tsukamoto, but I've seen most of his films and to me A Snake of June definitely represents a big change. From his earliest films and forward, most of his films has contained the conflict between the human body and the city, flesh versus cold, concrete buildings and in every film he's become a bit more intimate, organic. From literally turning a man into metal in Tetsuo - The Iron Man (1989) to covering his characters in rags, dirt and make-up in Gemini (1999). In A Snake of June nature seems to take on a bigger role, a theme which is continued in his next film, Vital (2004). The rain, the images of snails and vegetation in the city, the intimate shots of Rinko, it all adds up to a different kind of atmosphere than in his earlier films, A Snake of June is a film which feels totally natural. I won't go into technical terms that I don't fully know the meaning of, but the way the film is shot, with the tight frames, the black and white images and the rain, creates an almost claustrophobic feel. It's cramped, wet, full of repressed desires and completely erotic.