Yudai Yamaguchi’s “Tenth Dream” segment of Ten Nights of Dreams (2006) is an irrational, carnivalesque short that seems to revel in the lower bodily stratum. Farts, disembowelment, and vomit pepper this raucous short film and render it rather difficult to watch without feeling a creeping nausea. Beyond simply praising the film for accomplishing precisely what it sets out to (i.e. eliciting disgust), it is arguably beneficial to examine how such levels of disgust are induced. By briefly analyzing this segment and the ways in which it stimulates the “material layers of the human being,” I hope to illustrate that the pre-cognitive “feelings” that the film elicits are not simply bound up in the visual but rather originate primarily in the aural, and synesthetically circulate.
From the first shots of the film the primacy of sound as both a sensual and sense-making element becomes clear. The heavily desaturated image in conjunction with the overcranked slowmotion footage poses a significant challenge to traditional ocularcentric interpretive approaches. Moreover, drastic shifts from wide shots to extreme and fragmented close-ups further problematize the spectator’s ability to make sense of the scene visually and, in effect, allow for an achieved cognitive understanding only through a heavy dispersal of sensory priority. While we are not entirely bereft of image, this opening certainly functions quite similarly to Sobchack’s experience with The Piano (Campion, 1993). Here, we are not relying on an (arguably) unexplainable and unverifiable haptic connection, but rather the very present (and even heightened) sound of the scene. The sloshing of guts, the hard and labored steps, the guttural growls of the dog, and finally, in a kind of non-diegetic shock, the harsh ascending blasts of a trumpet which punctuates the comical grotesqueness of the scene, all play a significant role in making sense of the visual while simultaneously provoking a strong affective response.
This exaggerated sound is of course not simply limited to the opening scene but rather serves as a significant component throughout the short film. Another scene that relies heavily on sound, even to the point of completely removing image, occurs when Shotaro is eating his “pig bowl.” What is most significant here is the way in which the sound itself signifies a layer of disgust belying the visual. Shotaro, at first disgusted by the meal placed before him, hesitates to eat but quickly changes his mind and greedily finishes the meal. The sensual close-ups of lip smacking, gulping, and smiling is challenged by the heightened sound design which foregrounds the wet squish of the food being consumed as well as a constant acousmatic chugging and gurgling in the background (we learn what this sound signifies later). In effect, this scene perfectly illustrates the construction of meaning through both carnal and cognitive channels with the carnal, in this instance, fundamentally affecting the cognitive. The disgust elicited aurally gives rise to a sneaking suspicion that this pig bowl is not the benevolent offering it seems….