Theory Challenge: Cartooning Violence

I wanted to see if I could use Vivian Sobchack’s argument about the viewer’s lived body as the site of the “reversible (or chiasmatic) processes of perception and expression” (60), from her essay “What My Fingers Knew,” to explain in a step-by-step manner how we come to understand the cross-genre nature of Yudai Yamaguchi’s The 10th Night contribution to the filmic adaptation of Natsume Soeseki’s Ten Nights of Dreams (2006).

When Sobchack suggests that the “lived body is always already engaged in the… meaning-making capacity of its senses” (60-61), she makes clear that this process of meaning-making is always a result of acculturation (61). Hence, when we first see the protagonist stagger down the street with his insides on his outside, there is a palpable increase in tension in the lecture theatre as our lived bodies anticipate the torture-porn cinematic experience we have been acculturated to expect when we come in contact with such cinematic sequences. This is seen in the similarity between the screenshots below of Shotaro’s enucleated eyeball dangling by a nerve and a similar screenshot from Eli Roth’s torture-porn masterpiece, Hostel (2005).

However, the sequence that I am really interested in comes immediately after the title when Shotaro’s friend pulls on his eyeball, snapping it back into position:

The audio-visual cues perceived by the lived body such as the visible tension in the nerve as it is stretched, the subsequent speed with which it moves when it is released, coupled with the sound of rubber stretching and the popping sound it makes upon impact when it re-enters the eye-socket, all come together to communicate the notion of elasticity through audio-visual cues. However, more important than this multi-sensorial, synesthetic experience perceived by the lived body, is the instantaneous, non-verbal expression of laughter elicited from the audience during the screening.

Laughter here is important for several reasons. Firstly, it is a reflexive expression that happens “without a thought,” thereby illustrating Elena del Rio’s idea of “body and image no longer function[ing] as discrete units, but as surfaces in contact” (qtd. in Sobchack 65), that allow for such an instantaneous expression given the non-existent gap between body and image or perception and expression. Secondly, this non-verbal expression is an example of the “‘obtuse’ meaning that Roland Barthes suggests escapes language yet resides within it” (qtd. in Sobchack 60). And thirdly, it is an expression that still “resides within [language],” especially if we see “language” as representative of the Lacanian realm of the symbolic, and therefore functioning on the same tier as acculturation, because it is the body realizing before the mind the acculturated familiarity of such elastic bodies that can bounce back from an insane amount of abuse as being a feature of cartoons – a tame, non-threatening, child-friendly genre.

As such, the release of tension in the stretched eye nerve that snaps back into position parallels the flood of relief experienced by the audience that finds expression in involuntary laughter.


Works Cited

Sobchack, Vivian. “What My Fingers Knew.” Sobchack, Vivian. Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 2004. 53-84.

Ten Nights of Dreams. By Natsume Soeseki. Dir. Yudai Yamaguchi. Perf. Ken’ichi Matsuyama. 2006.

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