A SNAKE OF JUNE (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2002)

Tokyo’s wet season finds incessant rain falling from heaven and, through drains, down into hell. Rinko, a suicide phone counselor, is being blackmailed by a client, who has somehow managed to take photographs of her in atypical erotic solitude. These arrive in the mail. “You made me want to live,” Iguchi tells Rinko; we hear his disembodied cell-phoned voice throughout Rokugatsu no hebi. Rinko’s marriage to businessman Shigehiko is cordial, even affectionate, but hardly burning up the bedroom; Shigehiko works late and is anally compulsively given to scrubbing sink and tub. Meanwhile, blackmailer Iguchi (played by producer-writer-director-cinematographer-editor-production designer Shinya Tsukamoto) sends Rinko on a humiliating excursion to secure the negatives. (A vibrator and a cucumber are involved.) “I’m not asking for sex,” Iguchi explains to Rinko. “I’m telling you to do what you want to do.” A closeup of a vulnerable snail emerging from its shell represents Rinko.
     Iguchi, who is dying of cancer, realizes from one of the photos that Rinko also might have cancer; but Shigehiko’s ambivalence about her having a mastectomy, even if it means saving her life, causes Rinko to tell Shigehiko that the doctor canceled the operation as unnecessary. Now Iguchi takes aim at Shigehiko, including with the strangling coils of his hydraulic penis. The increasingly surreal imagery underscores how hard it is nowadays to separate fantasy from reality.
     Influenced by Tsai Ming-liang’s Ai qing wan sui (Viva l’amour, 1994) and David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), Tsukamoto’s brilliant black-and-white film suggests that life and its technology have shattered our integrity by invading our privacy and readying us for further invasions. The final searing movement shows how little husband and wife know what the other wants and what they themselves desire: marriage as another casualty of the modern age.

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