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Ec-Static Air: The Unseeable Sounds of Being Beside Oneself
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Ec-Static Air:
The Unseeable Sounds of Being Beside Oneself

Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Air Doll (Kûki ningyô, 2009) begins by following the character Hideo as he travels by train toward his home. After arriving, he speaks to someone offscreen before the film cuts to a scene at the dinner table where an over-the-shoulder shot from Hideo’s point of view reveals that he was and continues speaking to a blow-up sex doll he has named Nozomi. Spectators see the plastic surface of Nozomi’s body, and despite how Hideo personifies her, she remains the silent recipient of his statements. The scene transitions to Hideo’s bedroom, where he will use Nozomi as a sexual object. During this sexual encounter, sound begins to orientate spectators toward the surface of Nozomi’s plastic exterior more explicitly than its visibility. Each thrust or movement Hideo makes is accompanied by the sound of air-filled plastic under pressure. These sounds reiterate and exaggerate Nozomi’s properties as an object by throwing plasticity toward the spectator to exaggerate its frailty; these sounds situate her plasticity within what Steven Connor calls the “rhetoric of the inflatable,” which aims to perpetuate perceptions about the frailty of air-filled objects by foregrounding their potential for “abject eruption and collapse.”1 In these contexts, the sound of strained plastic provides spectators with a sense of the weight any air doll must support and lures us toward the [End Page 265] looming possibility of plastic ready to pop at the seams were the force of these thrusts to become too great.

While this opening sequence in Air Doll positions Nozomi as an object, foreshadowing how several characters will perceive her purpose during other sexual encounters in the film,2 the narrative quickly departs from this explicitly anthropocentric perspective. Nozomi is initially confined by audiovisual cues aiming to reiterate her status as a plastic object, but after the opening sequence, the audible properties of the film begin to undermine our reliance on humans as the interlocutors who make objects meaningful. Sounds of breathing accompany the film’s transition to daytime, and we return to Hideo’s home after brief scenic shots of his neighborhood in Tokyo. We watch Hideo dress and prepare to leave for work while Nozomi remains unclothed in bed. The sounds of breathing persist in the bedroom but, after Hideo is out of the frame, become attributed to Nozomi by the movement of a wind chime that jingles above her head. Spectators soon hear sounds of strained, stretching plastic return but, unlike the previous night, witness a visible shift from her state as an inanimate air doll: we see her legs begin to move before watching her translucent shadow on the wall while she walks from the bed toward the window (Figure 1).

This transformation situates spectators to grapple with normative orientations toward objects when they cannot or do not remain confined in an all-too-typical binary opposition to (human) subjects. Contemporary speculative realist philosophies provide various definitions for objects, and I remain intrigued by those with an orientation toward better understanding about the ontological configurations of objects, things, and entities (human or otherwise).3 The aims of these writings have prompted me to pause and consider what circumstances might prompt anyone other than object-oriented philosophers to consider the lives of objects or reconsider and expand an anthropocentric ontology.4

In what follows, I examine how Air Doll positions spectators to follow the life of a thing by upsetting normative orientations toward inanimate objects or tools. To accomplish this, I interrogate how the film reframes subject-object relations and, in turn, reveals the autonomy of things. I continue this inquiry by addressing why spectators are not only encouraged to look at the life of things but also, more importantly, why the film encourages engagement with things beyond (visible) present-at-hand surfaces. Finally, I address why the framing of relationships, between things and humans as well as things with other things, encourages and requires us to expand our conceptualization of ontology to include ec-static forms of being. [End Page 266]

Figure 1. Nozomi’s translucent shadow. Air Doll/Kûki ningyô (Kore-eda Hirokazu, 2009).
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