Andre Bazin once wrote of that “Photography and the cinema… satisfy, once and for all and in its very essence our obsession with realism” (Bazin, 312). While many film writers at the time focused on different aspects of film’s language, it cannot be denied that cinema’s ability to connote the index has been overdetermined in cinematic writings. The far more striking ability inherent to the cinema is not the index, the art of imitation, or “an image of the world… formed automatically without the intervention of man,” but rather, cinema’s ability to depict in real-time the bizarre, absurd, and seemingly uncapturable nature of poetics, dreams, surrealism, and fantasy (Bazin, 313).
Yamaguchi’s 10 Nights of Dreams short brilliantly underscores this point. Using a mixture of editing and mask-work to turn human beings into pig-human hybrids (two fat men snort instead of speak, and Yoshino turns into a pig-nosed woman right before Shotaro’s eyes), Yamaguchi highlights the film medium’s ability to represent something outside of the scope of reality, but animates these fictions in a convincing nature. Perhaps it would be better to say of cinema that it can present images with no referent as if they were born out of reality: Yamaguchi’s dream sequence looks scarcely less real than the realist cinema that fascinated Bazin, yet it has no index. Setting aside even special effects, the logic, or lack thereof, of Yamaguchi’s short elides film language–processes like parallel montage, accelerated montage, montage by attraction, all of which Bazin uses to elucidate his pro-realism writings–instead favoring the manic, nonsensical, nonlinear, and outrageous logic of dreams. For example, Shotaro recalls Genai’s advice to use his magic-broomstick-like staff to get out of dangerous situations at a moment that feels too convenient, in fact, utterly contrived. Going further, certain narrative information is given and then redacted. At the end of the short, Shotaro announces his imminent death. The narrator announces he lived until 138. Cut-to Genai saying he would become an astronaut. Cut-to Shotaro as an astronaut confirming his claims. Finally, the pace of the film is inconsistent, connoting the elusive temporality of dreams rather than reality.
In contrast with Bazin, Benjamin, a contemporary, seemed to predict film’s predisposition to poetic realism above indexical realism and man’s intervention above the concept of film as unmediated by an artist’s hand. Conversely, Benjamin wrote, “The entire process of film is determined by… intervention,” and “Nothing shows more graphically that art has escaped the realm of ‘beautiful semblance’” (Benjamin, 238-240). Yamaguchi’s film shows that film can vividly animate scenarios that transcend the scope of our lived reality, but the image he provides is no less true, to the extent that everyone feels and experiences dreams; the images from our dreams are thus true, yet they elide a rendering that privileges realism.
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Bazin, André, and Hugh Gray. “The ontology of the photographic image.”Film Quarterly 13.4 (1960): 4-9.
Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.”Visual Culture: Experiences in Visual Culture (2011): 144-137.