A Snake of June

Year 2002

Asuka Kurosawa as  Rinko Tatsumi
Yji Ktari as Shigehiko
Shin'ya Tsukamoto   as Iguchi
Director - Shin'ya Tsukamoto
Screenwriter - Shin'ya Tsukamoto  

A Snake of June is an effort by Shin'ya Tsukamoto, the director who brought you, Tetsuo: Iron Man. Tsukamoto loves symbolism and the alienation of modern man in a high tech world. His movies, like A Snake of June, are in Japanese but have English subtitles. Unless you are fluent in Japanese you will probably have to read along with a Tsukamoto film.

A Snake of June is a rather straight-forward story in the beginning to the point where it's almost an adolescent sexual fantasy. As the movie progresses, the character interaction becomes a bit more intriguing but never adds more than was provided at the start. By the end, because Tsukamoto wants the movie to be more complex than its simple premise, it becomes jumbled and intriguiing but still never addresses much more than what was introduced in the first part of the movie.

Maybe it's a cultural thing that I don't get. Let me describe the movie to you...

The first part of the movie is centered around Rinko Tatsumi (Kurosawa). You know that because the symbol for female (♀) appears on-screen at the beginning of the movie. (It's not untranslated Japanese, it's the Greek symbol for female.) She works as an operator at a suicide hot-line and has managed to save at least a couple of lives as part of her job.

At home, although she loves her husband, her marriage to Shigehiko (Ktari) is without passion. Enter Iguchi (Tsukamoto). He blackmails her into wearing short dresses and walking around the city with a vibrator inserted between her legs. It's a remote controlled item and Iguchi has the control. This is about as original as Japanese anime pornography. The fact that it's live action does not make it more erotic. The fact that Rinko complains about being a performer for Iguchi but doing it anyway makes it as believable as anime.

Iguchi is a photographer. He photographs nude women and knows how to get them excited for the photos. He's no longer working because of case of stomach cancer. But during the periods when he's not incapactited by the pain, he's busy helping Rinko come alive. Is this a yawner concept?

The blackmail? He took pictures of Rinko helping herself to herself and is threatening to hold onto the negatives of the pictures. How did Iguchi get these pictures? They're pretty detailed like he was only a few feet away from Rinko when all of the action was taking place.

That's one of items that kept this movie in this "Torn and Frayed" category. Iguchi has access to a lot of things that are flat implausible. Details of Rinko's life that he could not know. For example he knows about a short skirt that Rinko owns and he knows that she it wore pantyless, even though she only did it once and that one time was behind closed doors.

You start asking yourself if Rinko is just making all of this up because her husband is not allowing her to release her inner passion pressure. Iguchi always calls when Shigehiko isn't and his presence could hurt a scene, and Rinko's work is ignored after the opening set-up sequences. It's entirely possible that Rinko is fantasizing the whole thing and using one of her old suicide successes as a model to create a ghost to help her come to terms with her non-physical relationship with her husband.

But then comes part two of the movie which is about Shigehiko. It begins with the symbol for man (♂). He too talks with Iguchi on a cell phone and even meets Iguchi. Iguchi then isn't a tupla, "A being or object which is created through sheer spiritual or mental discipline alone." Or is he?

This is where things start to get a little weird. Rinko gets a pet hamster deliverd to her and and she keeps it even though Shigehiko, an obsessive-compulsive germaphobe, claims that he is allergic to it. Rinko needs to have an operation to save her life and because Shigehiko doesn't support her on it, she decides against having the operation. Shigehiko is abducted by Iguchi and forced to watch a sex show where the participants apparently drown at the end.

Let's take a moment to talk about some symbolism. There's the symbolism of the water. It's raining throughout the movie. Maybe it's washing away old lives. But it's always raining. Shigehiko follows his wife around and hides behind a gate even though his umbrella is clearly visible. Then there're the shots of a snail every so often. Why? I dunno. It's a creature that comes out when it rains, but why is it shown in the movie? I'm sure that there's a reason, but I didn't catch it. Just like I didn't catch why it was always raining. Always! Shouldn't it only be raining at certain times? Like when a plot point has been driven home?

And what about the title? What exactly is A Snake of June? Is this related to the passing of spring into summer? Why not a snake of April or May? Those are the months that remind me of spring rebirth. And why a snake? Why not a frog? Or a mouse? Or does it refer to the fact that a snake molts? Or does it have religious overtones, like the snake in the Garden of Eden. (More on this later.) But if so, then why June?

So where were we? Oh, yes. Rinko eschewed the operation that could save her life. Rinko either is or is not living with Shigehiko. Rinko and Shigehiko don't spend much time together and Shigehiko has taken to trailing Rinko around the city. Either hours or days or months pass from one scene to the next so you're never sure what you've missed in the lives of the characters. And there's the secret society of people who force others to watch a couple have sex in a bubble just before the bubble is flooded.

Now we move onto part three of the movie. We know this because the symbol is a left pointing and right pointing male symbol overlaying a female symbol. The three have become one or something. Iguchi now knows where Rinko will be and whether she'll be using the vibrator again. He also knows if Shigehiko will be around the alley for Rinko's singular performance and coordinates the movements. Iguchi has gone from a guy with stomach cancer who wants to help the person who talked him out of committing suicide by helping her save her marriage, to some sort of of nearly omniscient, nearly omnipotent force.

There's even one scene where Iguchi is almost like Doctor Octopus only instead of mechanical arms, he has two mechanical phalluses. So you wonder, "Did Iguchi cure his cancer and get these 'arms' as part of the reconstructive process?" Is it all symbolic and nothing of the kind happened? Have we gone from any reality to complete fantasy?

Whoop! Whoop! Spoiler alert activated for the next three paragraphs.
Back to religion. Rinko's surgery would be to remove cancer by removing a breast. Tsukamoto takes the position of Bernardino Ramazzini - that Rinko's cancer, like the high incidence of breast cancer among nuns, is due to lack of sexual intercourse which is unnatural. In fact, nuns do have a higher incidence of breast cancer than other women but it is due to lack of breastfeeding. It may come back to sex because you can't breastfeed unless you've had children and you can't have children unless you've had sex. But Tsukamoto brings religion back into the mix. He needs to just to provide a frame of reference for the ending.

This paragraph is still part of the spoilers.
I'm coming to the end of the movie and it seems like Tsukamoto had more than one ending in mind so rather than choose one, he included them all. Shigehiko goes into the bubble and is drowned or nearly so. When he gets out, he's told that he's in hell. Did he die? Is he really in hell? Switch to Rinko at home, some home that's maybe hers or maybe hers and her husband's or maybe it's some new place, or maybe she's dead and this is the afterlife, and she's busy cooking dinner while talking to Iguchi on a cell phone. Iguchi, as usual, knows what's she's doing step-by-step. Behind her is her husband's suit, hanging on a door. It looks like it's fresh from the cleaner's except for the smoking bullet hole in it. Enter her husband Shigehiko. He looks beat up, which is how he should look after being released from the bubble, and he is carrying a gun. The police are closing in on the couple's location and one of the cops in the cordon relates how Shigehiko stole his gun. In the end, on the outside the police are shouting that they are coming in. Inside, there is no noise from the outside. Rinko and Shigehiko are isolated in a moment in time.

More spoilers here.
Rinko and Shigehiko make love. It looks like Rinko had the operation after all. But when Shigehiko kisses her breast, it is restored. In the background you can hear a choir sing Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy). I told you I'd bring religion back into it. So, is it possible that Rinko's and Shigehiko's act of making love redeemed them? There's an earlier scene in part one where Rinko tells Iguchi that he'll never be redeemed because of what he did to her and Iguchi accepts that.

In the end what happened? Did Rinko and Shigehiko live happily ever after despite the police? Was their passion a frozen moment in time? Did Shigehiko die earlier? When was the gun fired and who fired it? Was Rinko cooking for a dead man? Was Rinko cooking a dead man? Was Rinko dead? Was the end a fantasy of Rinko's? Shigehiko's? Iguchi's? All three of theirs told in an interwoven fashion? Who knows?

It's not a bad movie. It's just that the topic seems so trite. Perhaps if there was some revelation regarding Shigehiko to explain his neat freak behavior or why he didn't attend his mother's funeral service then a little bit of weight would have been added to the theme. Part one of the movie almost destroyed it for me. I understand what Tsukamoto was attempting to do, I just don't understand why he did it in such an unimaginative way.

There's no profanity or blasphemy. I thought there might be some of the latter, but there's the religious tie-in so it's all pertinent. There are some nude scenes that are provocative but not hard core. I have to say that even though I did not find any of the scenes stimulating consciously. Yet my subconscious was interested and kept popping little questions up to my conscious like, "What do you mean you didn't think that was arousing? Are you blind?" Because the plot is the re-awakening of a couple's passion, there's some chick flick potential. But she has to like nudity and not be offended by Doc Ock phalluses.

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