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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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The color of scent

In the few sentences that I've posted about Tom Tykwer's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" (just blurbs on my Best of 2006 and Double-Bills lists), I mentioned that the movie was a striking feat of "cine-sthesia," as it were, and that the murders themselves reminded me of Hannibal Lecter's analysis of Jame Gumb in "Silence of the Lambs": The killing is incidental. What does he seek? (In this sense it reminded me of Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom," too -- voyeurism as a form of possession through the senses -- sight or smell.) And, of course, Grenouille (the scentless apprentice) kills because he covets. Jame Gumb wants to possess a woman's skin; Grenouille wants her scent -- and, by extension, all women's scents.

I wonder if one reason I was so enthralled by Tykwer's film (it's gotten mixed reviews: a 54 on RottenTomatoes) is that I'm told I have mild synesthesia, where senses bleed together a bit so that, for example (from the American Heritage Dictionary definition of the word), "the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color." That's very much like what the movie does, with color, shape, texture and sound orchestrated to express odors. But doesn't everybody experience this to some degree? My sensations have mostly to do with color, shape, texture and brightness. Sounds, particularly music (and to a lesser extent tastes, smells, even tactile feelings), are always accompanied by colors and shapes. Doesn't everybody know that trumpets are round and red? That violins are long and yellow? That pianos are (generally speaking) ovoid and green? Snare drums are light grey, short and thin and flat, like em-dashes, while cymbals are silvery, shimmery and round-ish but with no distinct edges, like a spray. Those are some of the things I always see in my head when I listen to music. Also: The number two is green, just as surely as the number five is red and seven is blue. (And the funny thing is, that's true for Roman numerals as well as Arabic ones, though the colors aren't all as strong.) I don't know where these associations come from -- if I've always had them or if I made them when I was a kid.

Do you have these experiences? Care to describe them?

Getting back to my first paragraph, I wanted to refer you to a splendid (and splendidly titled) piece by Stephen Romer in the Times Literary Supplement called "Distilled, bottled, and bewildered" that is a combined discussion of Tykwer's film, Patrick Süskind’s original 1985 novel, and a book of historical research and analysis of the "olfactory arts" by Richard Stamelman called "Perfume: Joy, Obsession, Scandal, Sin." An excerpt that I thought was exceptionally perceptive (beware of spoilers):

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