Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
Shinya Tsukamoto's "A Snake Of June" is a gorgeously filmed tale of repressed desires coming to the surface for a particular couple. The beautiful B/W photography (that's Blue and White in this case) not only looks fabulous and quite unique, but really emphasizes the constant presence of water throughout the film.
Water is indeed ever present - casting fluid shadows, glistening as beads of sweat, pouring from drainpipes and representing the rebirth of these characters from the rather tame and bland lives they are currently leading. The first half of the film is focused on Rinko - a beautiful young woman who loves her balding businessman husband very deeply, but feels the need to be more of a caretaker and wife to him in order to support his career (and doesn't want to bother him with her own needs). So her desires are held back and begin to, literally, eat away at her. Meanwhile, as she works at her job on a mental health hotline, a former caller gets in touch to tell her that since she helped him, he now wants to return the favour. He turns her own advice back on her - "You've got to do what you really want" - and believes that the sexual fantasies she has been having in private should be brought out in public. And since he has pictures of her during those private moments, he can force the issue.
The role of the photographer/blackmailer is played by Tsukamoto himself and it's a tricky character to play...He must show himself to care for Rinko and truly want to help her, but it also necessitates some cruel behaviour on his part as well. He essentially acts as her and (eventually) her husband's guide through Hell so that they may be reborn on the other side. There's a strong disconnect between the two halves of the married couple - Shigehiko, for his part, sees his wife as someone to cherish and protect. Because of this, he sinks himself into his work and sleeps in another room to avoid his temptations. Of course, this also makes him quite jealous...So Tsukamoto's photographer is the catalyst for bringing all these repressed feelings out and into the open - especially in a final scene in the rain where Shigehiko spys on his wife stripping down nude while the photographer snaps away.
The film is a scant 74 minutes and Tsukamoto keeps it moving at a good clip with the second half (after Rinko's story) combining Shigehiko's story, the photographer intertwining himself into both stories (because of some further information he learns about Rinko) and a number of surreal scenes that help bring Shigehiko's own feelings further out. In particular, there is a scene where he is forced to be a voyeur while wearing a funneled mask while two women are forced into a sexual act. It's very effective in conveying the proper emotions of the husband in the moment, even if it is not to be taken literally. But even though Tsukamoto's visuals are indeed centre stage, Asuka Kurosawa's performance as Rinko is the dominating factor of the film. She's quite stunning and puts everything into what is quite a bravura acting job.
In the end, I find this to be the best example of the manifestation of Tsukamoto's odd view of humankind's difficulty in relating to each other in personal and sexual ways.
Read more by Bob Turnbull at his blog.