Midnighteye: The Sun Also Rises – Miyazaki, Oshima, and the Politics of History

Recent years in the Japanese film industry paint a decidedly mixed picture: at first glance, Departures win at the 2008 US Academy Awards and the continuing presence of Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, Hirokazu Koreeda, and others might suggest a healthy and vibrant industry. Behind the spotlight, however, lurks hints of rot. Most recent film statistics suggest an expanding array of films competing for fewer screen hours, and thus less box office tickets. Those films which perform well take an overwhelming percentage of the box office, and leave little else for the rest of the industry. Blockbusters dominate the domestic market, while outside of the aforementioned directors, only a few others manage success abroad. -

See more at Midnight Eye

空が街の端にふれる場所 写真展


東京都三鷹市下連雀4丁目17−5 ウェザーコック三鷹 1F









Location; shanshando
1F 4-17-5 Shimo-Renjaku, Mitaka, Tokyo

Where the Sky Touches the Edge of the City

Up, up, and up. Higher and higher.
The city never ceases, rising and rising.
what will we see from below?
what is left behind?
These are my thoughts as I traverse the city…

photos from Tokyo and New York
taken by jack Lichten

Exhibition continues March 30 – April 4.

In Between Perceptions: Social Engagement and Transnational Interaction in Japanese Visual Culture

Sophia University Central Library, #L-821 November 4, 2:00PM – 6:00PM

Presented by the 2012 GSGS Graduate Students Workshop Series

This workshop seeks to enrich the understanding of transnationality in Contemporary Art in Japan within the context of a cultural shift towards transcending boundaries in the post-1960s era. We intend to cover a selection of works by Japanese and Japan-based artists which spans roughly 40 years. Our aim is to elicit critical voices from various art disciplines that have been increasingly engaging with matters extending beyond their cultural contexts. Socio-political upheaval in the 1960s raised continuing awareness to international issues and exposed the complicated perceptions of Japan’s neighbors and allies among various groups within the populace. Although the political fervor of the 1960s faded away over the ensuing decades, issues of nationality and artistic medium have continued to be questioned, especially by artists working in-between differing cultural contexts.

Our workshop will look at artists in four areas of Japanese contemporary art: Oshima Nagisa in cinema, Ono Yoko in public performance, Lee Ufan in painting, and Miyazawa Akio & Okada Toshiki in theatre. Each artist presented in this workshop seeks out different explications of individuality in Japan and overseas. While some artists attempt to engage with the question of the position of the individual and the nation within the domestic and international sphere, others seek to explore the body as a site of action. Rather than advocating a meta-narrative of the transnational character of these artists’ engagements, we seek to highlight the differences amongst these individuals across the forty-year period to show how Japan’s internal and external systems have changed, transforming the relationship between artists in Japan, their subject matters, and their audiences, both domestic and abroad.

Go Hirasawa (Meiji Gakuin University)
Kenji Kajiya (Hiroshima City University)

Michio Hayashi (Sophia University)

Jack Lichten (Sophia University)
Hiromi Saito (Sophia University)
Yuriko Yamaguchi (Sophia University)
Michael De Schuyter (Unversity of Tokyo)

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Poetry (Lee Chang-dong, 2010)

The film Poetry opens inauspiciously: children playing by a river. The camera lingers on their fun, until they notice something strange in the water. Floating down the river, the camera reveals, is a human body, of a young woman. This opening sequence is emblematic of the film as a whole, as the inauspicious, everyday nature of one’s life is pulled back to reveal something much darker and more dangerous.

The contemporary director Lee Chang-dong has, over the past few years, built up a reputation as a creator of quiet, powerful dramas about unfortunate people being unable to see the pain around them. Poetry is no exception to this; in fact, is fits him rather perfectly, as the film documents an old woman, MIja, who refuses to confront, or even acknowledge, the growing storms around her. And they are storms: her barely-functioning family life and her deteriorating health are only two issues Mija must confront but appears unable to, all the while attempting to improve her ability to express herself, through the poetry class she attends. Continue reading

Terayama Shûji’s Illusion Photostudio, “People of the House of the Dog God”

Filmmaker, playwright, poet, songwriter; all of these describe 1960s and 70s artist and crazyman Terayama Shûji (1935-1983), one of Japan’s most prolific post-war creative minds. Influential even today, Terayama casts a long shadow over much of Japan’s avant-garde artwork. This exhibit, on display through Sept. 2, places focus on one specific area of Terayama’s work, his photography. Specifically, this event showcases a 1974 exhibition, “People of the House of the Dog God,” (inugakike no hitobito) created from his Illusion Photostudio (gensô shashinkan), playing up the constructed nature of photography and a magical, mystical sort of image. This 1974 exhibition travelled through Europe, leaving a noticeable impact in its wake. 

Indeed, this retrospective intends to highlight the international influence, with a corner devoted to the European press; newspaper articles in Dutch and French, calling Terayama the “Japanese Fellini,” emphasize an impact beyond Japan’s own borders. The photographs themselves suggest a turn of the century, Bohemian style, something akin to Moulin Rouge in Meiji Japan. Of course, with a reference in the exhibit’s title to the Dog God (inugami) every photograph has a sort of terrifying look, as if those being photographed are preparing some kind of cult ritual. Murder? Incest? Anything is possible.

Almost all of the photographs fit into this mold – an interesting selection, to say the very least, but somewhat limiting in its appeal to fans of Terayama, or the occult in general. Also included in the exhibition, however, is a library of Terayama-related art and theory books. Given Terayama’s broad influence, these books cover just about every art, film, design, and theory movement in 1960s-70s Japan, as well as several important predecessors to the avant-garde movements, such as 1920s Soviet art. This treasure trove of art and writing emphasizes the richness of the 1960s art scene in Japan, the influence of Terayama (and others), and is essential viewing to anyone interested in Japanese art from any perspective.

Finally, the exhibit also includes a small selection of photographs of Terayama, taken by Herbie Yamamoto, an assistant of Terayama’s. These consist of a portrait of Terayama, and several images of him in the midst of photographing the Dog God collection. If nothing else, it’s an interesting look behind the process of the creation of the photographs; the mild-mannered look of Terayama himself is a strange contrast to the absurdity of his photographic work.

On August 11 at 5pm, Yamamoto will be speaking at the gallery, alongside Morisaki Henrikku (collaborator with Terayama) and Kujô Kyôko (Terayama’s ex-wife).

Terayama Shûji Illusion Photostudio, “People of the House of the Dog God” (Terayama Shûji gensô shashinkan “inugamike no hitobito”) at the Poster Hari’s Gallery (posutâ harisu gyararî)
runs August 4-September 2
13:00-19:00, closed Mondays and August 13-15
address: Tokyo, Shibuya, Dogenzaka 2-26-18 Asaka Building #103 

for more information (in Japanese)

‘Gyeobgyeob (重重)’: The survived Korean women who had been left in China – ‘Comfort Women’

(image via artist’s website)

Comfort women have, in recent years, gotten a lot of press. The Japanese government has acknowledged their terrible decisions during their time of empire, though they haven’t necessarily acknowledged it enough. Or so the argument goes. This exhibit isn’t about that, though; it’s about the people who got left behind, literally and figuratively. Each of the women depicted were sex slaves in Japan’s colonized China, where they remain to the present day. The photographer, An Sehong, found them, got to know them, and took these photographs them as they are now.

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)

Something that has always been of great interest to me is the handling of, and interaction with, secret and clandestine materials. Espionage films, therefore, are a perfect fit for me! People who are willing to subvert and corrupt their own selves, often at great personal or material risk, for what they believe to be a greater cause, or the well-being of place or ideal, suggest a conviction that, while not always ideal, is certainly interesting to see the motivation behind it. Of course, when these convictions are turned upon the institutions that foster them, such as in this film, the integrity, the true value, of those ideals are really put to the test – is it worth attacking the very institutions that are designed to foster your ideals in pursuit of those ideals? Sometimes, however, in order to save the ideals, the institution needs the attack. And so, throughout the course of this film, the forces of British intelligence go to war over what represents the best way to save Britain, and how far one must go to save an ideal, which in this case, just so happens to be a nation. Continue reading

Re-Encounter (Min Yong-geun, 2011)

How do you deal with the pain of abandonment? When those you consider closest have left you, and you are completely and totally alone, is there any possibility of return to a normal, social, life? Well, of course there is, and even though Re-Encounter (Korean title: 혜화,동 / Hyehwa, Dong) does, at times, suggest the lack of any possibility, even this film knows that it’s possible to re-establish social bonds, and form something resembling family. Those “familial” social bonds may be created out of whatever is available at the moment, patched together and tenuous, but they are real nonetheless. The film does become strained in its seriousness at times, as the director (Min Yong-geun) reaches to really emphasize those moments of hopelessness; these become a drag on what is otherwise an extremely well-shot and beautiful look at the strength one can find in abandonment. Continue reading

Popular Democracy in Japan: How Gender and Community are Changing Modern Electoral Politics (Sherry Martin, 2011)

Sherry Martin’s Popular Democracy in Japan attempts to explain the changing relationship between national & local politicians, and the general public, focusing specifically on female voters, ones who typically are not affiliated with interest groups or traditional voting blocs. The book touches on what national politicians since 2000 have done to attempt to court these unaffiliated voters, but the primary focus remains on politically independent women, and how their becoming involved with policy and political debates changes the behavior of politicians, and on the electoral culture itself.

Martin does focus on policy goals of women. Instead, Martin’s focus is on how women engage in politics, and the methods of their organization. Martin also focuses on the widening split between national and local politics, finding local systems as the entry point for many previously unengaged women. The book does not tackle why women are engaging in politics as more organized groups compared to previous generations, but how these groups have formed. In explaining the formation of these groups, and the recent engagement in politics, Martin does look at the policy goals of women’s groups; she does not, however, start with the goals, and only sees them as the ends. Her focus in this book, rather is on the means that lead to them. Continue reading

Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)

The film is strange in its basic premise: that those who are obviously human might be classified as “not human.” It builds up a story about three youths, with all the complications of puberty and entering adulthood, and then pulls out the rug from underneath them with the world in which this story is told, taking away their right to humanity. “You’re in love? Tough! You’re not here to be in love, you’re not here to even be human!” It’s a daring premise, to be sure, and it leaves you reaching for the tissue box (at least, it’s supposed to). As the film’s characters search for “true love,” some find it and others do not; the film suggests that not everyone can even find it, and even those that do will unfortunately not get the chance to fulfill it. What is different in this film is the suggestion that “true love,” when found, will be denied by external pressures on the relationship from society, rather than something from within the relationship itself.

Something I find rather interesting is the age politics at play; unless I’m mistaken, I think that clones in the film are exclusively portrayed as young people, while everyone else (the “normal people”) are older. I wonder if this is intentional, since when I see it, I can only think of the current issues at play regarding my generation, who will be paying for my parents’ generation’s greatest excesses. I can’t help but think that this film predicts the current social issues at play in America and abroad.

What makes the film, then, so difficult to watch is the inevitability of the clones’ destruction. They cannot save themselves; nobody ever even suggests trying to break out of the system which defines them as clones, and the one “out” is built on rumors and false pretenses. Funny how human that kind of rumor-making is, even as society denies these humans their right to existence. These youth are forced to sacrifice their own futures so that those who came before them can live longer, past 100. A selfish societal basis, to be sure.

Mark Romanek presents this world with grace and class; the science fiction element is present only enough to make it believable, and no more. Granted, he presents the material as Very Serious Business; sometimes, it gets a bit too serious and “Oscar-baity,” straining the believability of his film’s world. Most of the time, however, the seriousness of the tone feels appropriate; while the film is in many ways just a children’s love story, the weight of their purpose in life as organ farms demands a certain level of respect. And if the film knows anything, it is how to produce high quality Very Serious Business. Two of the strongest aspects of the film, its cinematography and music, emphasize the emotional pain the characters feel, and make you feel it as well – sometimes too strongly, as the “Oscar bait” moments attest to. Complementing the camerawork is (mostly) great acting by all three leads; if a lesser actress than Carey Mulligan were in the lead, I do not know if the film itself would hold together. Andrew Garfield does at times strain his credibility, most notably with one scene of screaming and crying, but is otherwise very good at what he does, as is Kiera Knightely, whose character appears far less than the others but just long enough to really leave an impression.

An issue I have with the film one that is actually more common in romantic comedies: the separation of sex from true love. The act is portrayed as a false act of love, one that those who are actually in love won’t have to do, since they’re already in love, or something like that. It’s a silly suggestion to make, but it’s also minor within the greater context of the film and does not really hold the movie back.

Ultimately, the Very Serious nature of the film works; Mulligan’s character comes out of the film in the “best” situation but only because her life ends in the least bad manner, compared to her friends. She ends her life happy for whatever little she was able to enjoy, as those who continue to live into their 100s do so thanks to her forced sacrifice. That, in the end, is the ultimate pain of the film: those who sacrifice their youth, and their lives, against their own will, for the pleasure of the previous generation.