Amber Wright: Swallowing the Slimy Stuff
by AMBER WRIGHT
I was intrigued, but I also felt guilty for feeling that way.
I closed the computer, but the images lingered in my mind.
I was hooked. I still am.
Amber Wright sneaks over to the dark side and documents her encounter with the disturbing, visceral work of Japanese artist Daikichi Amano, whose films and photographs are—well, she’ll fill you in on the details. All the links in this essay are very NSFW.
It’s as if Daikichi Amano is playing Mad Libs with “The Hearse Song”: “The _______ crawl in / The _______ crawl out / The _______ play pinochle / In your _______.” In the many films on his website, Genki-Genki, these blanks are filled in with “frogs” and “mouth,” “loaches” and “asshole,” “cockroaches” and “vagina.” For Amano, almost nothing is off-limits in his exploration of our kinkiest and most hedonistic desires. Each of his films is a sort of Frankenstein’s monster, built from the fantastical Japanese worlds of tentacle erotica and ero guro and miraculously brought to physical life by a zoophilic mad scientist. For those capable of loving the monster, this is the holy grail of pornography. But for the rest of us, it’s fearful, beastly work that offers some of the most stomach-churning spectacles you’re ever likely to witness.
Amano’s photographs, on the other hand, are a bit more digestible. Though often composed of the same sexualized encounters between humans and invertebrates, his stills generally differ in their absence of bestial penetration of the anus and genitals, transforming what in his films feels purely exploitative and degrading into disturbing, yet oddly beautiful tableaus. Whereas the films feel mostly like a fetishistic form of torture for his actresses, his grotesque photographsoffer what could be interpreted as an artistic meditation on death, decay, and the cycle of life. But because Amano’s photography career began on the sets of his films and many of his images are only slightly less graphic, should they be considered pornography as well? Is it all just glorified bestiality, or is any of it art?
My first experience with Amano came a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon some of his images while exploring Monica Cook’shyperrealistic paintings of women entangled with octopuses. Then came the VICE videoof Shane Smith in Tokyo exploring Japanese pornography with Amano, spliced with clips from Amano’s films. Despite the vulvas and penises being blurred out (a standard in live-action Japanese porn due to censorship laws), the image of eels being crammed in a woman’s rectum was too much for me. I turned it off. But I looked at the photos again. In one of them, spirals of wire bound a woman’s body to a chair and formed a mask around her face. Maggots and worms were skewered on the wire or pressed into her skin by it. A few hung dangerously close to her nostrils. More of the insects crawled down from a metal ball suspended over her head.
It just seemed like more of what I had been viewing already. I was about to leave all of it behind me when I noticed that the woman wasn’t sitting on a chair at all. It was a skeleton. Its skull nestled between her legs; its eye sockets gazed at me. Its arms were outstretched, securing her legs like a father would hold a child riding upon his shoulders. Behind them were what seemed like prison bars and a glimpse of the chains keeping her in place. She was metaphorically bound to death. It was inescapable. I was intrigued, but I also felt guilty for feeling that way. I closed the computer, but the images lingered in my mind. A few days later, I ordered a collection of Amano’s prints. I was hooked. I still am.
What seems to draw me to Amano’s photographs is not the sexual element but the way in which he sexualizes death. We flirt with death in horror films and Goth culture all the time, but because the harsh reality of it is so distant, it can be safely fetishized. With Amano, however, the confrontation with death is head-on. Real animals are draped over human figures, as if engaged in consumption, or writhe with humans in unusual, though not necessarily unnatural, embraces. His imagery is a visceral and palpable reminder of what happens to us once we are in the grave. But we of course are not the only ones being consumed. The human consumption of animals in his work is so very literal that the animals he uses in his shoots are either already dead, die in the process, or will die immediately afterwards when he has them cooked up for post-show meals with his casts and crews. Though extreme, his works reflect the symbiotic relationship between humans and creatures, one always feeding off the other. It is nature. It is natural. It is beautiful. And Amano poetically captures that beauty.
But then there’s the matter of animal cruelty in his work. Like the vast majority of Americans, I rarely, if ever, stand up against animal testing. I am not a huge fan of PETA. And I love to consume all sorts of products made from animals, especially those of the edible nature. However, for every person there is a metaphorical line in the sand—a moral ground you will not cross. For me, one of those lines is bestiality. Amano may prefer to think of his work as food play since his animals are mostly seafood, but with some of those animals alive and kicking when utilized in the shoots, it’s hard to convince me it’s anything other than sex with animals.
I also can’t help but wonder at Amano’s intentions since he derives pleasure from watching his actresses’ faces when they experience absolute terror or try to avoid vomiting. But in this case, perhaps it is less of a personal perversion and simply a cultural difference. In his collection of prints, Human Nature, Amano explains, “What’s interesting for the Japanese is an actress’ face, more than what’s between her legs. Our pornographic cinema is a psychological cinema, in which we see humanity in the grip of its fears, stripped bare, brought face-to-face with what is most atavistic within it.”
Amano’s comment suggests that his films are both art and pornography. There’s validity to his perspective, but I find that even though I can see the artistry within the films, it threatens to come at the expense of moral order in terms of both animal life and the emotional and psychological well-being of the men and women who confront their fears in this extreme format. Perhaps the absence of explicit sexual acts and the relatively downplayed elements of fear in the eyes of his models are what make his photography a bit easier to tolerate. In his photographs, the models are frozen in time, their bodies often in reclined positions that suggest the repose of death. At other times, the macabre elements surround them and interact with them, but as bizarre and revolting as they may be, they seem far less threatening than they do in the moving frames of cinema. Even so, Amano’s worksare challenging for even the least shockable. If you choose to look at them, do so knowing that very little good will come of it. Either you will be revolted, or you will find some strange beauty in them that will bring you back again and again. I’m not sure which is worse.by