Friday, January 05, 2007

On the difference between erotica and porn

Over at Club Troppo, have a look at comments #16 through #19 on this thread. Yobbo opines that if his post of the Japanese girl sucking on the octopus tentacle doesn't get a look-in in Troppo's Best Blog Posts of 2006 then the game's crook. Fyodor replies that this footage reminds him of the 'infinitely classier' egg yolk scene in the 1985 movie Tampopo. Yobbo comes back to say the egg yolk scene is gross.

Not having seen either, I checked them both out. (The clips, that is, not Yobbo and Fyodor.) They certainly have something in common: they are both about Japanese people chowing down on raw protein as part of a sexual spectacle. But that is where the resemblance ends.

The Japanese girl sucking on the octopus tentacle is, well, a Japanese girl sucking on an octopus tentacle. She also gnaws, bites and slobbers on it. The raw tentacle is large, shiny, pink and tumescent, with grey suckers. It appears to be a bit slimy. The girl is 'dressed' in a pomo hodgepodge of received-opinion porn-style attire including shiny black PVC gloves (which do nothing for her grip on the recalcitrant mollusc) and some kind of rabbit ears, or are they kitten?

She appears to be underage. She has a bad haircut and a little-girl voice. The scene constructs her as the object of the gaze, indulging in a deliberate arousal of autoerotic response in the viewer, who is constructed as solitary and male, and to whom, via the camera, she coos occasionally when she comes up for air.

It's low-grade, harshly-lit amateur footage with nothing happening in it except for this simulated rock-a-bye-baby-style fellatio on a bit of under-prepared sushi. No sexual tension or release is visible on the part of either the girl or the octopus-fragment, but then, it's not their sexual gratification that's being served.

It is incredibly boring.

The clip from Tampopo is a brilliantly shot scene of a beautiful and sophisticated couple sexually besotted with each other, and the focus of the scene is the two-way flow of their mutual desire. In both shot and plot they seem to be equals and the scene is about both of them. As they pass with astonishing delicacy an unbroken raw egg yolk back and forth from mouth to mouth without ever breaking the fragile sac holding it together, a process we see in closeup, there is clearly a lot going on below the waist and out of shot.

The erotic charge is to do with the violent contrast between containment and abandonment, with the finely wrought gentleness and precision of the egg exchange during the increasing sexual chaos we can't quite see -- but can deduce from what we can see. Then she whimpers; the egg yolk breaks in her mouth and dribbles down her chin as she slumps half-fainting against the table.

This is a story. There's some narrative drive in the sexual exchange, and some narrative mystery in the nature of their relationship. The egg yolk is profoundly sensual and suggestive, a testicle-shaped food with a silky, delicate skin, something whose explosion will be messy and irreversible. The mouth-to-mouth exchange is suggestive of great intimacy and great precision between the partners.

It is disturbing and beautiful. It is also ... Well, go and have a look. Make your night.

14 comments:

Meredith said...

I kept thinking what a difficult scene that must have been for the actors. Not only did they have to mouth-juggle a raw egg yolk between them, each time it was being transferred from her to him he would have had to bend his knees a lot so he was slightly below her. Mesmerising, but for me not in the least bit sexy. I'll check out the octopus sucker, perhaps that will do it for me.

Meredith said...

Nope, no tingles from that, but my vegetarianism is newly-resolved.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I think the most noticeable bending of the knees is about something else entirely.

For me the eroticism of the egg yolk scene -- set up by that lovely opening shot of her back and his response to it -- was a (fairly mild) bonus rather than the point.The really striking thing to me about these two as sex scenes is the way that one's about the connection and the other is about the lack of connection.

Actually I'm trying to think of a movie scene that I have found intensely erotic and can't think of a single one; maybe that's precisely because movie-watching is all about spectacle and distancing.

Stephanie Trigg said...

The other thing about the egg yolk scene, which I remember vividly from the movie, having seen it years ago, is that they are both wearing white, which added to the tension for me (cf. your earlier discussion of the laundry). Another great scene in that movie is where the man approaches an oyster with the same delicious and erotic apprehension. Add to the fleshly and salty delights of the creature the taste of blood as he cuts his lip on the shell.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Not to mention her response when he eats it out of her hand (and how's that for the proverb-words made flesh, and I don't even know whether 'she had him eating out of her hand' translates directly into Japanese). And the fact that, as you say, the blood, the oyster and the sea all taste like, um, salt.

I actually found that scene more erotic than the egg. (Interestingly, those two are being watched, too, by a lineup of fascinated fishergirls.) That scene is also there in the linked clip.

It also reminded me of a truly amazing erotic moment in the movies, the scene in the remake of Cape Fear where Robert de Niro slides his thumb into a very young Juliette Lewis's mouth, which was apparently a spontaneous thing of de Niro's that Lewis responded to so brilliantly that Scorsese left it in. Ooh-ah.

Maybe de Niro had seen Tampopo.

Fyodor said...

Ah, Mme. Pavlova, where to begin?

"simulated rock-a-bye-baby-style fellatio on a bit of under-prepared sushi"

For that line alone I insist you check me out, but only if you promise to be gentle.

Kate said...

What is it with the Japanese and octopus? I found the girl licking the tentacle slightly gag-reflex inducing, actually.

Then again, I'm the sort who finds most blow-by-blow depictions -- or descriptions -- of sex kind of yawn inducing. Oh he put what where? Rightio.

So given that I think the egg yolk scene works because it doesn't show you the 'action', as well as the fact that there seems to be a story going on as well.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Kate, exactly -- it's that literal-mindedness that's so deadening. If there's not some kind of narrative or some kind of symbolism or some other kind of second-order layer of meaning then it's all just hydraulics, really.

Fyodor -- heh. Ungentle, moi?

dogpossum said...

Strangely enough I was reading an article yeseterday about hentai, in which octopus seem to play a significant role. The wikipedia article on 'tentacle sex' (yes, it's true) seems a bit misleading, according to some of the other stuff I've read. The wikipedia article on tentacle sex actually discusses tentacle rape - quite a different concept to the more concensual notion of tentacle sex getting about in some of the Japanese erotica (though tentacle rape is definitely one theme therein). Apparently the idea of octopi as lovers has its appeal in the idea of a partner who has eight arms to make love to you with - a sort of all-enfoldingness.
Apparently the whole 'eroticised nature' thing (whether we're talking tentacle sex, the eroticised woman-fox or whatever) has its roots in shintoism.
So the bit of film about the girl eating tentacles while wearing animal ears no doubt has its roots in this hentai stuff, or that erotic aesthetic.

Sorry I don't know enough to be properly useful...

But in regards to these particular clips, I haven't looked at them yet, but the thing about hentai is that it's drawn, not real life. So the quality of the images is quite different. Apparently a lot of it has quite a different aesthetic to straight 'porn' and really works more as a more delicate erotica. It also often has a strong supernatural or fantastical element - tiny fairies making love to human women, the octopus thing, the fox-woman, etc etc etc.

But of course, there are plenty of examples of scary not-nice-to-women comic-book-style Japanese erotica. I think the point that some afficianados of the medium make (well, the ones quoted by the online article I've now lost) is that this stuff is actually quite woman-friendly.
And quite bizarre.

It's all very interesting stuff, and I guess I should have read up a bit more before posting on it...

dogpossum said...

I just watched that tentacle clip. That's gross - I think it's the urkness of undercooked/slimy octopus contrasting with squeaky young girl.
But the second one is more interesting... except for the fact that I loathe egg yolks, especially runny ones.
I think my favourite bit of the second clip is where the guy's just been shot and has to make it through the entry to the park/wherever and keeps falling over.
But then, I also like the blood on the oyster/blood on his white suit match as well.
Yes, the second clip is more interesting.

But this post is really interesting, pav - I wonder if the octopus one is so urk because there isn't any release - it seems so... well, pointless for the girl and tentacle. Kind of an elaborate dressing up and performance - a show without any real narrative, as you say. Whereas the egg one is far more to do with mutual pleasure and the skillful use of mouth and lips and tongue... ?

All I can think, really, is that it makes me far less comfortable using the term gastroporn.

Yobbo said...

Let me explain myself a bit:

I don't find the octopus tentacle video sexy either. I posted it because I found it be a piss-funny example of Weird japanese sexuality. The girl on her own is quite cute though.

The raw egg scene, on the other hand, is gross because raw eggs are gross. I couldn't think of a more disgusting thing to eat than raw egg. I'd much rather eat raw octopus or some kind of live insect.

That might just be my personal preference though. I really hate eggs. Even cooked eggs aren't a favourite.

Zoe said...

There are some lovin' octopods in the current Asia Pacific Triennial being held in Brisbane; I was looking at the cattledog the other day and found an article about it I had stashed away somewhere - I'll see if I can dig it up.

And can I just say that I love what the gents' fave clips let me presume about them. heh.

The Devil Drink said...

I call this a shameless attempt to grab hits from Google: don't think they're not going to come around, fiercely looking for satisfaction, only to receive the blunt end of comparative analysis. Ahah, I see your plan---Indoctrination of the perverted? Please, continue. Tell them to buy only free-range eggs.
Me, I find Withnail and I sexy. But only for the lighter fluid scene.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Yobbo, that's more than fair enough. I wouldn't actually eat raw egg yolk myself except for a very substantial bet; the salmonella alone ...

Dogpossum, that is really interesting. You've also reminded me of something I'd completely forgotten -- a 1788 Utamaro print called 'Fishergirl Ravished by Water Spirits' (I knew as I was typing it the first time that that lovely word 'fishergirl' must have come from somewhere) that I've always loved and that's my idea of a genuinely erotic drawing, despite the fact that it's essentially a picture (albeit faintly seen through water) of a girl being gang-raped by aliens.

(What this will lead Zoe to presume about me is something I can only guess, but my other guess is that Z has other things on her mind at the moment, and not only her mind.)

This picture is in Michael Gill's Image of the Body and his description of it, though a tad prim and circumlocutory, is worth quoting here at length, partly because it engages so closely with Dogpossum's comments and partly because it also addresses the question of voyeurism:

'At the bottom of the sea, where she has to grope for the large platelike [awabi] shells, one of the divers is surprised by a couple of water-spirits. As lecherous as monkeys, but equipped with webbed feet and ... gills ... their faces reveal a gloating wickedness. One holds the poor girls down while the other is about to force an entry [!] ... Above the surface, the diver's comapanion crouches on a little island, guarding the basket of shells. She can see down through the drifting kelp and the cloudy mass of her friend's floating hair ...

[This] curious observer holds a dominant seat in the picture. Is it simply because, in small areas heavily encroached by water like Japan and Holland, voyeurism is perforce inflicted on everyone? Or that, arising as the prints do from the traditions of Kabuki, the spectator in them implies that all the world is a stage?'