Book Review – Dream Spectres: Extreme Ukiyo-e: Sex, Blood & The Supernatural

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Dream Spectres: Extreme Ukiyo-e: Sex, Blood & The Supernatural
by Jack Hunter
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1840683011
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This is a strange and fascinating little book. It’s an extensive collection of the “dark” side of traditional Japanese woodblock printing, running the gamut from pornography to police blotters to illustrations of traditional ghost stories.

The way it’s written is relatively sensationalist, but when you take the subject matter into account, there’s really no better way to present it. It wouldn’t be half as fun or interesting if it were written in a more dry, academic manner. Unfortunately, this also means the write-ups of the individual prints are not terribly in-depth, and I did occasionally find myself wanting more information than the book was able to give me. However, it’s a great introduction and included sections on certain types of prints I’d never heard of before, such as the shinbun nishiki-e, or brocade news prints, that were put up to illustrate particularly horrific or difficult police cases, allowing the general (and often illiterate) public to participate in current events.

Due to the nature of this book, all the example scans are distinctly NOT safe for work environments, or for people under the age of eighteen. If you are curious and would like to see examples from the content of this book, please follow the cut below. If you are underage, in a public area, or are easily upset by explicit or gory content, please DO NOT CLICK. I will not be held responsible for any consequences to be had from viewing the images below.

I would recommend this book for:

-People with an interest in art history
-Anyone interested in sensationalist media
-Fans of horror and the macabre

I would not recommend this book for:

-Anyone under the age of eighteen (graphic violent and pornographic content)
-People looking for pretty images of geisha, courtesans, lovely women
-People looking for any kimono-related reference

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6 Comments

  1. If you’re talking about Manga and the like, while it doesn’t rely on the direct exploitation of others it certainly encourages it. I’m thinking of the tons of pulp published in Japan featuring school girls in uniform with proportions so grotesque as to be deformities, and read, as a Japanese friend pointed out to me, by the very same SICK men who’s teenage daughters are the same age! Yes I do think that such banalisation of the image of young girls as mere sausages encourages and equally banalises their exploitation in real life. I have seen brothels in Osaka with young (VERY young) tarts dressed and waiting in school uniforms on the sidewalk!

    While shunga had a similar role when it was created, I doubt that it has any arousal appeal to the public of today, either in or outside of Japan, and as such still feel that it belongs to the realm of art far more than to the realm of pornography.

    You have a point though in that it’s grotesque proportions have found their equal in the contemporary (not drawn, but very frighteningly real!) physical deformities of silicone implants, penile “enhancements” and exaggerated body building to the point of monstrosity seen in (especially North American) scabrous material and media today.

  2. I can understand wanting to warn of the graphic content, but in your wording you strongly imply that (for most viewers ?) art and pornography are on the same plane when it comes to depictions of violence or nudity. This is highly inaccurate, misleading and hence upsetting.

    Exposure to art is part of the broader field of education and knowledge, whereas pornography lies in the field of human rights abuse as the sexual violence depicted therein is real and damaging, not imagined as in art (read the stats and testimonies regarding the sex industry).

    Art on the other hand is beneficial to intellectual development, as is the understanding of this fundamental distinction. I would certainly not have a problem browsing this book at my place of work for example and I daren’t imagine the ignorance of an employer who would have a problem with it.

    Needless to say, I would not show this to a 5 year old who does not have the intellectual maturity to understand the distinction and could be negatively affected. It shocks me though to discover through the implications of your warnings that there might be grown ups out there ignorant enough of art to confuse imaginary depictions of violence with the real thing.

    From their inaccurate description of the image “diving girl fucked by octopus” I would surmise that the author himself does not have a full grasp of this distinction, a bit of a discrepancy for an art book don’t you think. I could think of many terms better suited to describe this scene: “ravaged” or “raped” for example….

  3. I would not describe the contents of this book as “pornographic”. There is a very significant distinction between art and pornography. Pornography is specifically designed with the aim of sexual provocation and relies on the sexual exploitation of other human beings as consumer products. Art does neither of these things. I would not have a problem with my 15 year old being exposed to art, in fact I encourage it.

    • But there are images in this book that are blatant pornography. Things that were created for the explicit purpose of titillation.

      Pornography doesn’t need to rely on the sexual exploitation of human beings – look at the industry of pornographic books and things like fanfiction. They’re not exploiting anyone, but they were created with the intent to arouse people.

      There is art like that in this book. It’s not art for the sake of art – it’s art for the sake of arousing someone. I’m not talking about a bared breast here or there. I’m talking about giant dripping vulvas and huge veiny penises.

      And the warning is simply a standard warning I put on all the explicit content I post elsewhere online (including explicit stories I write). I don’t want to be held responsible for someone viewing these images and getting caught by a boss or particularly uptight parent.

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