A Month of Horror on the Fringes (Day 25): Daydream (1964)

I will completely understand if Daydream is not necessarily horror overtly – but it has hints of vampirism and malice and psychological terror so I’m going there. For the uninitiated, Daydream is one of the most important films to ever come out of Japan, yet its presence is sorely missed in Western film appreciation. Perhaps it’s the tangential relationship to pinku eiga, and that genre’s sordid tryst with pornography. After Suzuki Seijun’s classic Gate of Flesh, Daydream is one of the first mainstream Japanese films to contain nudity; it is also a trailblazer for what has become modern Japanese censorship with the introduction of “fogging”, or blurring of any offending images from incessant, prying eyes. After viewing director Takechi Tetsuji’s film, I have to admit I completely understand the method behind the creative madness. There was a time – and it is certainly not this time – when nudity and sexual provocation, as tools within the artistic medium, were viewed as political extremism. To depict sex was outside the bounds of decency and thus the law, and therefore the equivalent of an act of (culture) war. As the director himself says in a prelude statement, translated as best as I can make out the Japanese between the poor subtitled version I obtained and my own best guess:

In this work, Daydream, I deal with the problems of human nature and society in a dual statement. In this film, nudity stands as much for man’s extreme circumstance as it does for human alienation. It (film) is a medium prone to elevating a simple statement into social protest. – Takechi Tetsuji

Film does this better than any other genre by its unholy marriage of moving image and sound. Daydream’s title sequence is a brilliant assault on the psychological senses; a cacophony of disorienting imagery and suggestive sound design. In it, we get first a few violent dashes of white paint against canvas, as a woman makes heaving sounds off camera. As the credits progress, the paint intermingles with other shades of gray as the woman’s vocalization becomes more and more suggestive. The end of the montage is a visual whirlwind of sex and violence, without ever a bit of nudity or a single human presence.

Every image in this film is charged with sexual energy. We begin in a dentist’s office; he like to see two persons at once, probably to keep costs down. As he oscillates between the first and second patients, the camera dips and twirls, hinting suggestively that the apparati have more in mind than helping the dental hygiene of the patients. Through clever intercutting, very phallic technology is suggested to molest the mouths under the dentist’s care. The whole first 10 minutes feels like an awkward but deliberate offense of technology upon the human body. Things become even more important and awkward when Chieko (Michi Kanako) and Kurahashi (Ishihama Akira) arrive at the office. There is something immediately alluring to Kurahashi about Chieko’s presence but it is left unsaid. Soon, they are both opposite each other in the dentist’s office: what’s inside their mouths hurts, a little. They are offered brandy and sedatives. Soon, Kurahashi looks over to the young woman only to see the dentist unbutton her shirt, and stuff his face in her breasts.

Each day all through October, I’ll be writing my two cents on 31 horror films from the dark alleys, lost highways, and unexpected corners of cinema history. Here’s to the fringes!

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