[This review contains many substantial spoilers.]
June in Japan is the rainy month. The snake in Japan, as in many other cultures, is a symbol for the penis. 2002's A Snake of June, by Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto (already famed for the Tetsuo films and Bullet Ballet) is an enthralling film about the awakening of desire and the explosive consequences of damming that desire.
The first thing to be said about A Snake of June is its look. Filmed in black and white, it was transferred to color stock for theatrical showing. Tsukamoto chose to use the possibilities of that stock to give his film a rich Arctic blue gloss that lends the film an otherworldly aura while still keeping the high contrast and heavy detail of black and white. (Beads of water and pores in the skin leap out in sharp relief.) The blue acts to cool the viewer even as events explode onscreen. It detaches us from events in a different way than straight-forward black and white would have. The choice of blue also ties in to the movie's extensive use of water as a metaphor.
The movie opens with photographer Iguchi, played by director Tsukamoto, trying to sell some pictures to a magazine. He's told that his pictures of inanimate objects aren't as desirable as erotic pictures. We next meet telephone social counselor Rinko Tatsumi, a quiet woman with a certain French gamin look about her: narrow horn-rim glasses, a stringy boyish bob cut and a mild androgeny. She seems very reserved and self-contained, nervous to please in that way unique to Japanese women in their twenties. Next, we meet her husband, Shigehiko. He's at least 20 years her senior, balding and pudgy and soft. A classic Japanese sarariman and apparently a bit of a momma's boy. (Even his name suggests it. "Ko" is derived for the word for "infant," and is frequently used as a diminuitive at the end of women's names: Michiko, Akiko, etc.) Shigehiko is a cleanliness and neatness freak. When we first meet him, he's scrubbing the kitchen sink. When Rinko protests, wondering if she did a good job, he replies with an odd smile that he enjoys cleaning.
As we soon learn, their marriage is dry and sexless. Repression and sterility is everywhere. Enter Iguchi. He mails a packet to Rinko titled "Secret From Your Husband." It's filled with surprising pictures of a reclining Rinko, sitting beside her living room window, exploring her body to erotic effect! We're amazed at the revelation about the prim Rinko and she's shocked by the invasion of her privacy. Iguchi has pierced the bubble built up around her.