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Consider the Pear

Nature and women in Nao Yoshigai's films

a young girl eats a pear at her desk surrounded by pears
21 Oct 2020

Writer Iana Murray explores the relationship between fruits and sensuality in Japanese Nao Yoshigai's films.

The ties between women and nature are a source of fascination for Nao Yoshigai. Her short films are like reaching into the ground and feeling the earth between your fingers – a total immersion into the environment as a reprieve from oppression. In The Pear and the Fang, these connections to something greater are also interpersonal, as two women escape isolation and find each other. Nature, in the form of a fruit, exists to facilitate that connection.

The Pear and the Fang begins with a pair of conundrums. Satoko roams the pear orchard she tends to and discovers that one is missing, with only a beastly fang lying in the grass in its place. Ayano, meanwhile, wakes up in her messy apartment to a solitary pear lying on her table. Its origins are unknown. She then looks in the mirror and discovers a gap where a tooth once was.

Parallels are drawn between Ayano and Satoko and the similarly stifling lives they find themselves trapped in. For the former, she’s a recluse idling time with a hobby in ASMR, and the surprise arrival of the pear promises a ticket out of isolation – she only needs to find the correct destination. Taking the fruit as a puzzle to be solved, she orders boxes of pears from dozens of farms. Adorning her apartment on every available surface, each pear holds the possibility of escape, and in tracking them down, the opportunity to connect with another human being. However, escape is not all Ayano yearns for. She is hungry for contact, too

Everything that I eat,' she says. 'It’s all made from scratch by someone

For Ayano, the puzzle of her pear is not just about the how, but the who. What she doesn’t know though is that the chance to meet its maker is already pre-written. With the red thread of fate tied in a bow around its stem, destiny is manifested.

Contrasting with Ayano’s claustrophobic conditions, Satoko experiences loneliness within vast, open fields in the countryside. Working at a fruit sorting factory, she’s ostracised and judged by her colleagues for choosing to work alone. As she enters her workplace, we see a ranked leaderboard, the camera panning down pairs of spouses and partners, followed by Satoko at the bottom. In this industrial space, pears have been commodified to perpetuate heteronormativity. It’s an entrapment that Satoko begrudgingly tolerates, then violently rebels against when urged one time too many to find a husband. In finding each other, Ayano and Satoko also reclaim the fruit for homosocial relationships.

In history and mythology, pears have long been treasured as something sacred. During Japan’s Edo period, it was believed that pears could ward off evil, and in Greek mythology, a pear was a gift from the gods. In this contemporary setting, Ayano and Satoko use pears to ward off a different kind of evil: the cage society imposes on women. They are a means to escape patriarchal and heteronormative demands, a gateway to a holy sanctuary free from oppression.

Movement and the female body are integral to Yoshigai’s work. In Hottamaru Days, one of her early shorts, the bodies of nymphs interlock to the point that it’s impossible to decipher which limb belongs to who. While Satoko and Ayano are separated by distance, The Pear and the Fang similarly enmeshes its protagonists. Ayano and Satoko’s respective obsessions reduce them to their most primal. In one sequence, Yoshigai cross-cuts between Ayano devouring pears – in front of an ASMR microphone that picks up every squelch, crunch and chew – and Satoko careening through a dense forest. The juxtaposition paints their longing for escape as not only a need, but a deep, unquenchable hunger.

a woman in water

Art has also long explored the erotic possibilities of fruit. In another essay on fruit in art and culture, I noted that the works of Renaissance artists like Raphael and Caravaggio convey sexual metaphors through fruit. In particular, Caravaggio’s painting, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, evokes lost innocence and sensuality in the image of a scantily clad man holding overripe fruit. More recently, the peach gained celebrity status as a masturbatory outlet in Call Me By Your Name, its suggestive shape communicating the sensory overload of desire. If the peach is a rear-shaped symbol of lust, in Yoshigai’s film, the pear represents the obsessive longing for connection. This doesn’t have to necessarily be sexual, but The Pear and the Fang explores the pear’s potential for homoeroticism.

There’s something about the texture and the shape, Satoko ponders out loud. It’s a bit sexy, no?

 And while she’s talking about the fang, the description could readily be applied to the pear, too. As Ayano’s fixation grows stronger, she also communicates desire for her 'spherical beauty'. To no one in particular, she details its 'luring fragrance' and 'perky skin'. Could she be talking about a female body too?

Forced apart, a pear and a fang bear little significance. But together, they represent a perfect union. Fruits exist to be consumed; teeth do the consuming. Ayano and Satoko’s inevitable and awaited meeting is preceded by an off-screen growl. These feral beings are ready to feed. The film culminates in the two eating the fruit simultaneously under a cascading waterfall – a consummation in a sweet, juicy feast. No longer famished, their hunger for connection is satiated.

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