Review first published by Movie Gazette
Strait-laced Rinko (Kurasawa Asuka) and her cleanliness-obsessed husband Shigehiko (Koutari Yuji) eat at different times, barely communicate, and sleep in separate rooms. One rainy morning in June, Rinko receives a package with an envelope marked ‘Your husband’s secrets’, containing photographs of herself masturbating. Other photographs follow, also showing her secretly engaged in intimate acts. The photographer, Iguchi (played, appropriately, by the director Tsukamoto Shinya), calls Rinko, promising to give her the negatives, but only if she will do in public the things which he had photographed her doing in private. After the completion of this exchange, which both mortifies and arouses Rinko in equal measure, Iguchi calls again to reveal something about her which he has discovered in his photographs that is altogether more painfully intimate, something which she must share with her husband.
A stale marriage, a peeping tom, blackmail, deception, and the unlocking of hidden desires – these are all recognisable staples of the ‘erotic thriller’, a lowbrow softcore subgenre. Yet this seemingly straightforward material forms only the first movement of A Snake of June (Rokugatsu no hebi), told from Rinko’s perspective. Two further sections, the one from Shigehiko’s point of view, and the other combining the perspectives of Rinko, Shigehiko and Iguchi, turn this narrative upside down and inside-out, until in the end it is no longer clear what is fact, what is fantasy and what is nightmare – indeed it is not even clear whether Iguchi is a real person at all. It is left to the viewer – the ultimate voyeur – to assemble these three mismatched parts into a coherent whole.
This twisted tale of looking, longing and loss has all the mannered strangeness that fans have come to expect from Tsukamoto, director/screenwriter/actor/editor of the cyberpunk classics Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer, and the twin period melodrama Gemini. A Snake of June is literally soaked in style, with heavy rain visible and sometimes audible in every scene, underscoring the dripping lusts, teary grief and wet dreams of the three central characters. Sexuality and sadness are also evoked by the electric blue tint which suffuses Tsukamoto’s black and white images, bathing everything in a beautifully cold glow.
Tsukamoto has moulded from the most basic of ingredients an intriguing and ultimately inscrutable enigma. Whether it is a through-the-keyhole peepshow, a schizophrenic thriller, an X-ray view of human pathologies, or a strange romance, there is something in the water which makes A Snake of June drip with a bizarre eroticism that is no less intense for being submerged.
Summary: A stylish puzzle about the intimate secrets which images contain and conceal.