Sato Amane (Ayako Tachibana Wants to Go Viral (2020),) might very well be the most overlooked horror-director in Japan. This, of course, could be due to the fact that his work offers a blend between the horrifying and the arousing. Yet, Amane proves, just like the great pink-directors of the past, that erotic-horror can go beyond mere voyeuristic scopic satisfaction and that the genre can be used to put the field of sexuality into question as well as to critique certain societal tendencies.
Shiori (Chihiro Matsukawa) is still silently suffering from her break-up with Keita (-). Yet, not long after becoming single, she starts dreaming of a mysterious man fondling her naked body. One night, when waking up sweating from her sexual dream, she is confronted with a human shape in front of her. Luckily, it quickly disappears.
Not long thereafter, she tells the scary moment to her friend (Nagiko Tsuji) and Yusuke (Kazuma Takeda), her fellow part-timer who harbours some romantic feelings for her. He immediately sets out to safeguard Shiori’s grandmother’s old house with salt. Yet, the shape keeps visiting her. One night, already sexually aroused, she invites the invisible figure into her bed.
While some spectators might surely assume that Shiori’s Naughty Dreams is merely focused on granting the male (or female) spectator his scopic satisfaction, such limited voyeuristic view forgets that the field of eroticism can be used to question the very dynamic of desire and enjoyment that animates the human subject.
Amane’s narrative approaches this dynamic of desire/enjoyment through the device of the dream. As most will know, the Freudian dream is always a wish-fulfillment. Shiori’s sexual dreams are, in this sense, not difficult to read – they are infantile and stage her desire without any kind of concealment. In short, she desires the male touch and sexual enjoyment.
Given her break-up, Shiori is of course led to wonder if the male shape that keeps appearing in her dreams to fondle and satisfy her is not Keita, her ex-boyfriend. In other words, she is subtly questioning whether her fantasies of sexual pleasure are not a visualisation of her remaining desire for Keita.
Yet, the true mystery that structures Shiori’s Naughty Dreams is the very appearance of the mysterious figure outside the dreams. In our view, this materialisation is caused by her sexual desire – her dreams cannot contain her desire, so it spills out in the physical world. As the mysterious shape is born from her burgeoning sexual desire – as a matter of fact, it is her desire, can we not argue that the hungry male shape has no other aim than granting its satisfaction?
Yet, what will the impact of the looming shape of desire be on Shiori? What will the effect be of the repetitive satisfaction of her sexual desire? In our view, Shiori’s Naughty Dreams beautifully stages how sexual enjoyment, when devoured in excess, ends up consuming the subject and bring him/her to the eve of his own self-destruction. Amane indirectly underlines the very importance of safeguarding a distance between one’s desire and its satisfaction. So, can Shiori find a way to refuse the monstrous black shape of her own desire and the devouring satisfaction it grants her? And can she resist her desire for sexual enjoyment all by herself?
Amane has created a composition that, due to its effective use of dynamism, is both able to offer the spectator a sense of horror as well as surges of enticing erotism. In the more horror-like moments of Shiori’s Naughty Dreams, Amane exploits the creeping zoom-in shot in a highly effective way. The bursts of eroticism do not fail to titillate the spectator due to Amane’s continued compositional emphasis, by heavily relying on close-up shots, on the arousing touch. The blended staging of horror and eroticism is also effective, subtly unsettling the spectator while slightly arousing him as well.
What also invites the spectator into the narrative are the fleeting shifts in the compositional rhythm. It’s by thoughtfully playing with the visual flow and fluidly integrating ominous imagery into the composition that Amane succeeds in emphasizing the hold the subjective world of erotic dreams has over Shiori as well as disturbing the atmosphere with bursts of sinister mystery, as the spectator is, at least in the opening in the narrative, left wondering about the content of her ‘naughty’ dreams.
The sound-design is quite good. While it is obvious that Amane did not have a professional sound set-up, he does show that he understands the narrative importance of sound by decorating his composition with certain sounds (e.g. sobbing, a drop of water falling, moaning, the sound of touching, …etc.) that, due to their clarity and their powerful presence, do no fail to help intrigue the spectator, further engage him in the mystery that surrounds Shiori or heighten the impact of the visual display of eroticism. And by thoughtfully adding threatening music and sounds to those ominous sexual signs (i.e. the liquids, the semen-like drops of water, the vulva- or phallus-like candle, …) disturbing the mundane atmosphere, Amane heightens their effectivity to pull the spectator into the mystery of Shiori’s desire (Structure-note 1).
Shiori’s Naughty Dreams is not simply a great ero-horror, but an enthralling experience that confronts the spectator with the ultimately finality of his own desire: his own demise. While many spectator might assume that desire merely exists to be satisfied, Amane shows with Shiori’s destructive trajectory that desire needs to stay desire. Highly recommended.
Structure-note 1: What also helps engaging the spectator is the natural rhythm of the conversations.