ESSAYS / FILM REVIEWS

SEX AND DEATH AND BAD TRANSLATIONS

 

BY STEVEN GRAY

Spoiler alert: The films referred to in this essay include Hail Mary and In the Realm of the Senses.

The ultimate in post-coital letdown is when you die.

1.
There used to be a video rental store in San Francisco which specialized in Japanese films. This was in the 1980s. I wandered in one afternoon, not planning on renting any tapes but curious what they had. In the back was a section for X-rated films. I started reading the titles and descriptions since the translations were so demented. In going from Japanese to English the words passed through a warp which left them scrambled.

This was before computers and I had seen very few X-rated films. There was one showing on a nearby television, but I was jotting down the bad translations from the VHS boxes and ignoring the young woman on the screen who did not seem comfortable being naked. I guess I wasn’t ignoring her entirely. Some examples:

Nurses treated the penis gently.

She is playing the role in the bodily crush this time.

If you do not surely see, you will absolute.

The sweet smell of her rectal rosebud.

Training of Ririko is ejaculated.

The desire of the men who scramble for one woman.

The woman who loses reason to a man’s smell wildly.

The party which was out of order finishes and continues that there is nothing.

Business of the sublime love on which sweat and humors scatter goes and comes back to Heaven and hell.

A cry, a groan, and a pleasant sensation wrap in people.

Humors overflow.

Mad in the man’s flesh.

(((Seductive body get around the wave of crisis)))

This is the exciting Fuck with a beautiful porno actress of selecting carefully!!!

I am your fruit today what it is suitable and he is enjoyed thick time is offered to you.

Voraciously body of intelligent females.

I start playing with my finger when nobody is in a classroom.

I saw a film in Chinatown where two powerful supernatural spirits, male and female, were flying around and copulating wildly in mid-air. They were knocking down trees and stirring up a storm. At one particularly heated moment the female spirit’s cries were translated as, “So comfortable… so comfortable!”

2.
A good example of a bad translation can be found in an ancient book. In the process of being translated several times from one language into another the original phrase, “young woman,” ended up as “virgin.” It had some repercussions since it referred to the mother of Jesus.

Jean-Luc Godard made a movie about the Virgin Mary called Je vous salue, Marie, or Hail Mary (1985). In his version, she works in a gas station and claims to be a virgin. Joseph is a cab driver who must take her word for it, even when she tells him that she’s pregnant (an angel arrived on a jet and gave her the news). The film was controversial. People didn’t want to think of the Virgin Mary pumping gas or posing naked. I had to cross a picket line in front of the Roxie to see it.

3.
Japan has a history of authoritarianism and sadomasochistic comics are popular there. Sadomasochism is found in many films around the world, and one of the better ones is In the Realm of the Senses (1976), written and directed by Nagisa Oshima. Usually the man is dominant but here the woman prevails (it is based on a true story from the 1930s).

X-rated films are known for being a bad translation of what goes on between two people, but not in this case. It could have been called Breathless since one of the methods they use is erotic asphyxiation. “When you rob your brain of oxygen, you experience a high – euphoria, dizziness, and lower inhibition – before you lose consciousness” (medicinenet.com). It’s like smoking a joint which constricts the blood veins, reducing the amount of oxygen going to the brain (if a man wants a good erectile function he may want to be more careful with his veins).

A few years ago there was a trend going around called auto-erotic asphyxiation. It was for extreme sensualists who couldn’t get a date. It is something of a Freudian wet-dream where the sex drive and the death drive come so close together you couldn’t separate them with a piece of silk. Long before Freud had finished his toilet training the French referred to an orgasm as la petite mort. The death erections of hanged men have been observed for thousands of years. A woman was jogging on a Sunday morning in a park in San Francisco and came across a man hanging from a tree with his pants down. (It could have been the actor, David Carradine, who underwent a similar fate in a hotel room in Bangkok. One of his more famous roles was a half-Chinese monk.)

But I digress. In a film like In the Realm of the Senses the man went all the way. Over the edge, the point of no return. The ultimate in post-coital letdown is when you die. The woman cut off his genitals, he didn’t need them anymore, and wandered around town in a daze. Given the consensual circumstances I don’t think she was arrested. Japan was caught up in a fascist death drive in the 1930s and I wonder if the man refused it, finding refuge in a love affair with a woman. Unfortunately, the Dionysian has some deadly side-effects. (The Japanese have a delicacy, a poison fish. It enhances a meal with the threat of death if it isn’t cooked right. Bon appetite.)

4.
From Death in Venice to Psycho and a lot of slasher movies, death and Eros are too close for comfort. An older man is attracted to an adolescent boy during an epidemic. A shower scene ends with blood going down the drain. A couple of college students humping in a tent offend the sensibilities of a maniac. Some directors take a violent and puritanical revenge on lovers. Hitchcock was known for torturing his actresses in films, particularly if they wouldn’t sleep with him. Many directors prey on the animal instincts of the viewers, going for a primal undercurrent which puts butts in the seats. The more suspense the better. When a man brings a woman to the movies and someone dies onscreen it brings them closer together. She clutches his arm in fear and apprehension which gets her adrenaline going and increases the likelihood of their having sex that night. Unless it doesn’t. When I was in high school in Los Angeles I brought my girlfriend to a drive-in movie. The first few scenes of the film were so violent that she got upset and we had to leave. However, a large portion of the public gets off on watching (simulated) snuff films.

From Basic Instincts to Snakes on a Plane, people pay the price for having sex. Maybe it’s a form of copulation control, having a death penalty for those who want to feel good. In some countries that penalty is all too real. A man or woman can be executed for sleeping with the wrong person. For some people, the danger enhances what is otherwise a mundane event (which says a lot about them). I don’t need a lot of suspense to make a love affair more interesting. I would find it distracting if there were foreign agents out to kill me while I’m lying with a woman (who for all I know is one of them), and that would not improve my performance. I’m not James Bond, in other words. “KISS KISS BANG BANG” (how the Japanese refer to him) would not describe my life. It would describe a lot of movies though. It is astounding how many movie ads contain a man with a gun and an attractive woman. Sex and death with a fallacious phallic symbol thrown in. “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun” (Godard).

spicy-detective-stories-pulp-movie-poster-1936-1020410284

I think guns are uncivilized. If you need a morbid atmosphere to liven up your sex life put some funeral music on the stereo or something by the Dead Boys. Or look in the mirror. As the poet and director, Jean Cocteau, said, “You’ve never seen death? Look in the mirror every day and you will see it like bees working in a glass hive.”


Steven Gray has lived in San Francisco since the 1970’s.  His most recent book of poetry is Jet Shock and Culture Lag. He writes reviews for www.litseen.com


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