“The Savage Mouth” (short story) by Sakyo Komatsu
From Apostolou & Greenberg’s The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (1989)
Originally from Lee Hardings’s anthology Rooms of Paradise (1978)
Currently available from Kurodahan Press’s Speculative Japan (2007)
Original: Japanese, 1968
Translated by Judith Merril, 1978
“A horrific tale by Japan’s leading SF writer” (74)
Synopsis: Sickened by the absurdity of life, one man prepares to turn his own world inside-out. Stocked with pans, knives, slicers, burners, an oven, sauces, vegetables, and relishes, the man sets up the last and most important piece of equipment which he has been procuring for three months. Supine on the table with his legs stretched, the machine cuts and cauterizes, slices and dices. Order up.
Analysis: This is a classic piece of the horror sub-genre known as “body horror” and my favorite piece to-date. Not only is the scenario graphic and horrific, but the underlying allegory plays on a few different levels.
The obvious superficial parallel to the gruesome plot which the reader will first be drawn to is the connection between the consumer and their consumption—here, one in the same. The self-cannibal, an unnamed man as mysterious as his true motives, seeks independence from the vicious cycle of consumption and waste. Slowly, the man is able to work on his grisly task from the ground up—legs, waist, innards, etc. The titled “savage mouth” is the same mouth as the ever-consuming capitalist.
But looking at the man’s original stated motives—“The world we live in is worthless, absurd. Staying alive is an absurdly worthless thing” (75)—the reader can see his desperation for returning to a primitive state where reason is inconsequential and beyond the grasp of the animal-state. Through self-cannibalism and replacing his fleshy body with prosthetics, he becomes less human and more unnatural. His final conscious act of consuming that which makes him conscious is his parting wish, resulting in a animalistic urge to feed without reason—“a blind aggressive compulsion that lies in wait at the heart of all animals” (84).