Takashi Ito: Moving Still
“Film is capable of presenting unrealistic world as a vivid reality and creating a strange space peculiar to the media. My major intention is to change the ordinary every day life scenes and draw the audience (myself) into a vortex of supernatural illusion by exercising the magic of films.” (Takashi Ito)
Experimental filmmaker Takashi Ito is considered one of the major figures in the history of Japanese experimental film. Studying under Toshio Matsumoto at Kyushu University of Art and Design in Fukuoka, Ito’s consistent output over the past four decades has left an indelible mark in Japanese experimental film. He was the special effects artist for Sogo Ishii’s Crazy Family (Gyakufunsha kazoku, 1983), a film co-produced by the Art Theatre Guild of Japan, a company for which he worked in the early 1980s (see below on Funeral Parade of Roses for more on ATG). He has been a subject of retrospectives at International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, where he won the Main Prize in 1995 for Zone (screening as part of the programme), and Flatpack Film Festival. He is professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design and teaches at Image Forum.
Programme at h 19.15
After opening with his legendary work Spacy (1981), the programme is roughly divided into three sections: the first dealing with gender and identity; the second engaging with horror within confines of rooms; and, finally, a film by his mentor Toshio Matsumoto that went onto become a major inspiration for the artistic practice of Takashi Ito.
Arguably the most widely seen film in the history of Japanese experimental film, Spacy (1981) is considered a classic of the country’s output in the particular tradition of filmmaking. A flipbook-style arrangement of still photographs transforms into a riveting roller-coaster display. Featuring in the documentary Free Radicals: The History of Experimental Film (2012), Spacy is in the collection of Centre Pompidou and is distributed by Image Forum (Tokyo) and Light Cone (Paris).
See Mark Toscano’s video document ‘Takashi Ito flipping through original photos from his 1981 film Spacy’, filmed at International Film Festival Oberhausen, May 2015: https://vimeo.com/127061855
Apparatus M (1996)
While Gi Sōchi M means ‘apparaus M’ written down, phonteically it can also be interpreted as ‘masquerade,’ referring to the cross-dressed protagonist. The work is an artistic collaboration with Japanese ‘appropriation artist’ Yasumasa Morimura who is seen dressed up as Marilyn Monroe in the Hollywood classic The Seven Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955) and was made for Morimura’s exhibition in Yokohama Museum of Art. Morimura is represented by Luhring Augustine Gallery and his work is held in the collections of Whitney Museum of American Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
A Silent Day (Shizukana ichinichi, 2002)
A reworking for his 1999 work A Silent Day (Shizukana ichinichi), the 2002 version of A Silent Day is slightly longer and incorporates a metatextual layer whereby the protagonist in the film is making the film A Silent Day. Featuring the young actresses Megumi Kubo and Monno Kazue with whom Ito worked on many occasions in the late 90s and early 2000s. While the film is the most evocative of narrative cinema within the programme, it still features many tropes of experimental film honed by Ito over the years.
“I want[ed] to express my recent theme, that is, melting of fiction and reality and ambiguities of the world we live in” (Takashi Ito)
Incorporating some characteristics of Spacy, Ito’s film Thunder is a horror-inflicted study of presence in a room. Seemingly inspired by Toshio Matsumoto’s Space Projection Ako (1970) –a multi-projection environment featuring a young girl and her gestures in different projections– Ito’s film features a young girl that appears to haunt the space. “We can think of this film as made based on the unified scheme produced by layering together a number of axes of semiotic systems. Because the frame is the basic unit and the film composed by designing an accumulation of symbols representing reactions to sight and programming them into the time of the film, we can call it a kind of film-as-game.” (Shiroyasu Suzuki)
See a documentation of Space Projection Ako (1970):
Winner of the Main Prize at International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, Zone is a semi-autobiographical exploration of space. “A film about a man without a face. His arms and legs bound with ropes, a disabled man is still without even a quiver in a white room. This man, enwrapped in wild delusions, is also a reconstruction of myself. A series of unusual scenes in this room that expresses what lies inside me. I tried to create a connection between memories, nightmares and violent images.” (Takashi Ito)
Recalling Michael Snow’s Back and Forth (1969) with its use of horizontal pans, Drill is once again a study of a company dormitory in which the filmmaker was living. “The filming of the entrance to the company dormitory in which the film-maker was living. Centering the film on one pillar, he warps the spaces to the left and right and creates an unstable space similar to painting that employs anamorphosis. Made as were Spacy and Box with a large number of photographs, the film ends with a violent movement, but is poetic for this.” (Takashi Nakajima)
Watch: Michael Snow’s Back and Forth
Atman (Toshio Matsumoto) (1975)
A film that cast a huge influence on Takashi Ito, Atman is a work by Japanese experimental filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto. See an extract here:
Watch Eriko Sonoda’s Garden/ing (2007), which employs a similar technique to Takashi Ito’s works: https://vimeo.com/79543589. Image Forum alumni Nasuka Saito also employed the technique in her film A Labyrinth of Residence (2008).
Read ‘The Ecstasy of Auto-machines’ by Norio Nishiima and ‘The Wonder of Takashi Ito’s Land’ by Nobuhiro Kawanaka
Read ‘Ghost of Time and Light: The Experimental Cinema of Ito Takashi’, a report on the 2015 retrospective of Takashi Ito films by Yaron Dahan for MUBI
Download the International Film Festival Oberhausen 2015 catalogue featuring an essay ‘Uncanny, sensual and with subtle love’ by Nakazawa Aki and programme notes on Takashi Ito:
Programme at h 21. 15
Funeral Parade of Roses
Funeral Parade of Roses is one of the most energetic and innovative feature films to come out of Japan. Featuring many transgender actresses, the film is set in the emerging queer subculture in Shinjuku 2-chome, Tokyo, and is a rare example of queer filmmaking in the country. Following the queer icon Peter (who also can be seen in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, which also screens in Mubii Japan at Eye), the film walks us through the edgy activities of youth in 1960s Tokyo: house parties; drug-infused underground screenings; political protests; and porn shoots. Blending documentary and fiction in a way that make both indistinguishable from the other, Matsumoto has described the film’s structure and form to be similar to dropping a mirror on the ground and picking up the pieces. It also seamlessly interweaves styles often found in video art, television shows, performance art, manga comics and experimental film –including a memorable reference to Monas Jekas (or, Jonas Mekas). Brimming with dynamic verve, Funeral Parade is a must-see for all interested in queer culture and experimental film!
Read on Funeral Parade of Roses
‘Shinjuku as site: Funeral Parade of Roses and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief’ by Taro Nettleton. Screen, 2014, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 5-28 (available in Eye Film Institute Library and Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam).
‘Neo-documentarism’ in Funeral Parade of Roses: the new realism of Matsumoto Toshio’ by Mika Ko. Screen, 2011, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 376-390
(available in Eye Film Institute Library and Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam).
ATG: The Art Theatre Guild of Japan (ATG) was an independent organisation set up in 1961 to show local and international arthouse films in Japan. Launching with ten cinemas across
the country in 1962, a committee of critics and filmmakers (including Toshio Matsumoto) selected classics (Citizen Kane, Battleship Potemkin) and world cinema titles (Rocha, Wajda, Godard, Ray, Cassavetes, etc). In 1967, they began co-producing local low-budget independent films (“10 million yen films”), many of which went onto become representative titles of Japanese ‘new wave’ cinema. Supporting filmmakers such as Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura, Kiju Yoshida, Masahiro Shinoda, Susumu Hani and Shuji Terayama, ATG played a key role in distributing their works at international film festivals.
ATG co-funded Toshio Matsumoto’s feature-length debut Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) and showed the film in its theatres. They also supported the making of his following feature-length film Pandemonium (Shura, 1971).
Read on ATG here:
‘The Anticipation of Freedom: Art Theatre Guild and Japanese Independent Cinema’ by Roland Domenig
Toshio Matsumoto: Japanese filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto is considered a pioneer in film theory, video art, expanded cinema and film installations. A leading cultural voice since the 1950s, his writing on world cinema, underground film and the interstices between avant-garde and documentary were considered key texts by cinephiles. His first film was Silver Wheel (Ginrin, 1955) a PR documentary on bicycles made in collaboration with members of Japan’s avant-garde art collective Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop). His triple-screen projection For the Damaged Right Eye (1968) is widely recognised as one of the first works of expanded cinema in Japan and Magnetic Scramble, made the same year, is considered an early example of Japanese video art. He was an editor of key film journals Kiroku Eiga (Documentary Film), Eiga Hyoron (Film Criticism) and Kikan Firumu (Quarterly Film). His shorts have recently been a subject of retrospectives at Oberhausen International Short Film Festival and Harvard Film Archive. His work was shown in Tokyo 1955-1970 exhibition at MoMA and is currently on view at ‘EY Exhibition: World Goes Pop’ at Tate Modern.
Recommended works by Toshio Matsumoto:
Ecstasis (1969) features in Funeral Parade of Roses
For the Damaged Right Eye (1968) is a triple-projection work featuring the subcultures of Tokyo from which he also drew for Funeral Parade of Roses
Read on Toshio Matsumoto
Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics by Yuriko Furuhata, 2013, Duke University Press.
(available in Eye Film Institute Library)
Zero Jigen (1963-1972), who make an appearance in Funeral Parade of Roses, were a performance art group that staged their naked group actions on the streets (and occasionally stages) of Tokyo and Nagoya. At the time, Zero Jigen were the most visible performance art group in Japan as they regularly featured on popular magazines. Nevertheless, they were also a leading voice in underground arts and appear in many experimental and documentary films in the 1960s. They also featured in the ‘Tokyo 1955-1970’ exhibition at MoMA.
Read on Zero Jigen
‘Sound in Two Dimensions: Graphic Scenario of Performances by Zero Jigen in the 1960s’ by Raiji Kuroda, POST, 2015.
‘The Rituals of “Zero Jigen” in Urban Space’ by Raiji Kuroda, R, 2003, no. 2, pp. 32-37
‘Filmed Rituals: Zero Jigen Incarnates Onscreen’ by Julian Ross, Desistfilm, 2012.
Programs curated and presented by Julian Ross. He is a Leverhulme postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Westminster and recently completed his PhD on Japanese expanded cinema.