A Snake Of June is Shinya Tsukamoto’s fifth feature. Although it may initially seem to be a low budget film shot with a hand held camera; the viewer rapidly becomes conscious of its incredible design.
The idea of the film, according to the director, actually began to take shape around the time he was making his first feature Tetsuo: Iron Man a decade earlier. But unlike that film and some of his preceding work, which was almost entirely made by him in all facets this was the coordinated effort -due partly to a larger budget- of a small team of dedicated associates, working under Tsukamoto’s direction. Yet it nevertheless looks entirely the product of his skewed imagination due to his rigorous control of the project, retaining the makeshift yet highly refined aesthetic and frenetic pacing of his independently made work.
Tsukamoto imposes a series of stringent limitations on his film. The open 4:3 frame –talking about the film he reveals he initially conceptualized it as a square frame but discarded this idea due to technical difficulties – using grainy sixteen millimetre black and white (given a blue tint for the final print) film stock shot on a small Sony hand-held camera, recurring circular apertures enclosing the point of view and also a dominant motif in the Mise-en-scene in structures and objects, rain falling the entire film.
He proudly states in an interview that he regards A Snake Of June as the culmination of his explorations of erotic tension within confined urban claustrophobic spaces, a theme he had been exploring since Tetsuo. A theme he professes to have been obsessed with since early childhood, reading the trapped chamber horror stories of Edogawa Ranpo. In addition he mentions a pornographic sadomasochist magazine he purchased in his teens as something of a revelation. Apparently at that point he was already making his own eight millimetre films.
A Snake Of June was conceived during Japans rainy season during the month of June. The constant rain which I initially thought was real -marvelling at the endless torrential downpour- was actually artificially created, as much a struggle for the production crew to create as the incredible backlighting etching it out in sharp graphic relief in the night scenes. Tsukamoto explains the ‘Snake’ in the films title, as embodied by the central female character (Rinko) and her hidden desires desperate to find release.
Tsukamoto states at the time of the interview that he felt A Snake Of June to be his most mature picture. He was forty-two at the time the film was made. His sympathies and focus are with the female character Rinko rather than the male characters, as opposed to his previous work where the opposite is true. He explains this change of perspective through the experience of having been married and having had a daughter.
In the film Rinko is married to a novelist Shigehiko. They make an awkward couple. He is overweight and balding. She is slender and attractive. When we see them together in the house Shigehiko is normally cleaning something obsessively with a scrubbing brush or working at his laptop. She occupies herself in another corner of the house. There is always a distance between them, even when they talk.
Rinko receives an anonymous letter in the post. It contains a series of photographs of her masturbating. The sender (played by Tsukamoto) threatens to expose these pictures to her husband unless she submits herself to a series of assignments created by himself the voyeur. He promises to return her all the negatives and prints to her on condition she completes these.
These assignments, in which pleasure borders on humiliation, become increasingly more risky as the film progresses. She is asked to perform them in public places. She receives further packages of photos in the post from the voyeur, documenting her recent activities; all the while terrified that Shigehiko will discover them.
The culmination of these is a final assignment where she has stripped naked and is totally exposed outside in the pouring rain in some industrial back alley, while we see the voyeur snapping away photos with a Nikon with zoom lens from a parked car. With each mounting click of the shutter and accompanying flash bulb flare, it seems she is moving nearer to a climax. Shigehiko has followed her and is watching from behind a barrier, extremely aroused by what he sees. The final purpose of the voyeur’s games is becoming apparent.