A Snake of June (Shinya Tsukamoto, 2002)
There are those, and they are legion, who find those of us who contend that the Japanese simply make better movies overall than the Americans these days are just some sort of film snobs with a fetish for foreignness. I would answer that those people should, as just one example of what I'm talking about, take A Snake of June and hold it up against any American sexual psychodrama of the past twenty years (and, come to think of it, the only one I can really find to compare it to is Jane Campion's woefully terrible In the Cut). The simple fact of the matter is that Americans, whether it be filmmakers themselves or the studios who distribute the films, simply aren't capable of coming up with stuff like this. It's just not in our nature or something.
The tale follows Iguchi (Shinya Tsukamoto), who begins as a suicidal photographer. He calls a suicide hotline and is talked out of killing himself by Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa). He grows obsessed with her and her husband Shigehiko (Yuji Kohtari) and begins stalking them, setting in motion events that will take all three on journeys of self-revelation.
That's a woefully incomplete synopsis, but little revelations (such as why Iguchi was suicidal in the first place, and how he makes his presence known to Rinko) pop up sporadically throughout the film that ripple into the greater revelations, and so pretty much everything in the film after the first ten minutes or so is a spoiler. All I can do is say "trust me, the plot's taken care of." And it's a fine plot, if a bit impressionist (this should be no surprise to those who are already familiar with Tsukamoto's work). The actors are very good at what they do, and all the other technical details are nicely done. But what makes this film so compelling is, of course, Shinya Tsukamoto's vision, both literally and figuratively. Figuratively because it's hard to imagine, here in America, that films can still be this deliciously shocking; literally because Kaijyu Theater films have a certain look to them. Shinya Tsukamoto has gotten away from the biotechnological obsessions of his earlier films, but he has retained much of the visual style that made Tetsuo such a nightmarish experience; years of practice, of course, have honed it somewhat, and toning down the subject matter brings the visual style a bit more into focus. It's a kind of blend of the Hong Kong martial arts flick and Polanski's Knife in the Water, if that makes any sense.
This is very, very good stuff, and well worth tracking down. ****