A mummified body is found inside a plastic hut, victim of a meticulously planned suicide by starvation. There’s a diary by its side detailing a man’s 60-plus days of slow, calculated death. Inspired by a true event and based on a Shimada Masahiko novella, The Sound of Insects defies genre definition by juxtaposing the narration of the supposed “suicide artist” with evocative imagery of the supposed woods where his deathly performance might have occurred.
While the film’s imagery and sound form a coherent set of experimental sequences akin to a piece of found-footage melancholia such as Valse Triste, its voiceover is like a long death diary, poetic (“So perhaps music is edible?”) and matter of fact at the same time (“I had a bowel movement in the evening”). Surprisingly not macabre, this fictionalized record of self-aggrandizement through self-destruction reminds one of Derek Jarman’s Blue in its epistolary delivery and its displacement of meaning to that which is never really shown. One can also think of writer Yukio Mishima’s seppuku, performance artist Fred Herko’s jeté out the window (Andy Warhol was bummed for not having caught the moment of the plunge in a photograph), and the HIV-chasing politics of Guillaume Dustan, who also turned the courting of death into literature through barebacking. But the anonymous suicidal performer mummy in The Sound of Insects is less interested in the grand finale, more focused on his very shriveling. Still it is death as spectacle, even if a quietly murmured one, that links all of these performers. The namelessness and facelessness of the film’s martyr (of an unknown cause) do very little to veil the pleas for existential recognition stitching together this whole business of dying for an audience—whether it is live or guaranteed in the future through ink on paper. He says he is trying to “Elaborately experience every nuance of suffering” instead of simply jumping off a cliff and dying immediately.
Economical and violent like a psychoanalyst’s words in a good session, The Sound of Insects matches its subject’s aural accounts of daily activities (listening to Bach, reading Beckett, jerking off) with scenes of tree branches being pounded by the rain, silhouetted crowds walking at airport terminals, spotted horses trotting about, heavily lipsticked women staring into oblivion and a beautiful, a freaky shot of dripping stuffed animals hanging to dry on a clothesline. “Even without eating a thing, you can still fall in love,” he says.