The Return of the Giant Hydraulic Penis


More than a decade ago, Shinya Tsukamoto established himself as Japanese cinema’s arch-poet of sexual hysteria with the festival favorite Tetsuo: The Iron Man, a raucous, operatic synthesis of biomechanized rutting and urban angst. Generously reviewed, Tetsuo was essentially a glorified student film that nevertheless paved the way for ambitious genre-benders like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike. But while those two have become household names among the Nipponophile cognoscenti, Tsukamoto’s subsequent, more mature works have been largely overlooked.

Happily, all of them are available for scrutiny on DVD. Hong Kong distributor HK Video has released Tsukamoto’s most recent—and arguably best—works, Gemini (1999, loosely based on a story by Japanese mystery scribe Edogawa Rampo) and A Snake of June (2002). Like Tetsuo, both films pivot on outrageously fetishized depictions of existential alienation, but the mayhem is tempered by Tsukamoto’s wry, sympathetic grasp of the oppressive absurdities and inchoate terrors of intimacy. A Snake of June, a self-reflexive study of therapeutic voyeurism championed by Catherine Breillat at Venice in 2002, synthesizes Tsukamoto’s pet themes particularly well, and its relatively sedate tone (a shocking cameo by Tetsuo‘s infamous serpentine hydraulic penis notwithstanding) hints at more thoughtful films to come.

Tsukamoto’s earlier, more convulsive works—the Tetsuo sort-of sequel Body Hammer, the for-hire shocker Hiruko the Goblin, and A Snake of June dry-runs Tokyo Fist and Bullet Ballet—may require some hunting, but like Gemini, most are available from online video rental source GreenCine (