Picture in Picture: Japanese Experimental Films of the Late 1970s & 1980s

May 2013
Yale Union
Portland, Oregon

For Cinema Project

Screening One
Wall by Takashi Ito [1987, 16mm, color, sound, 7 min.]
Spacy by Takashi Ito [1981, 16mm, tinted b&w, sound, 10 min.]
Shift by Toshio Matsumoto [1982, 16mm, color, sound, 9 min.]
Connection by Toshio Matsumoto [1981, 16mm, color, sound, 9 min.]
Shashin Ki / Photodiary by Takashi Ito [1986, S8 transferred to video, color, silent, 3 min.]
Shashin Ki 87 / Photodiary 87 by Takashi Ito [1987, S8 transferred to video, color, silent, 3 min.]
Mira No Yume / The Mummy’s Dream by Takashi Ito [1989, 16mm, b&w, silent, 5 min.]
Drill by Takashi Ito [1983, 16mm, b&w, silent, 5 min.]

Screening Two
Engram by Toshio Matsumoto [1987, 16mm, color, sound, 12 min.]
Grim by Takashi Ito [1985, 16mm, color, sound, 7 min.]
Thunder by Takashi Ito [1982, 16mm, color, sound, 5 min.]
Ghost by Takashi Ito [1984, 16mm, color, sound, 6 min.]
Atman by Toshio Matsumoto [1975, 16mm, color, sound, 12 min.]
Enigma by Toshio Matsumoto [1978, 16mm, color, sound, 3 min.]

This program is an exercise that draws together various threads of image-making strategies—moving or still, computer-generated, film, video—and the often quite explicit and physical overlap of these media and formats. Over the course of two nights, we focus on two leading experimental filmmakers from Japan, Toshio Matsumoto and Takashi Ito (teacher and student respectively at Kyushu University of Art and Design) and their work from the late 1970s and 1980s.

Using photographs within the moving-image or mixing formats is certainly not exclusive to the work of Japanese experimental or avant-garde filmmakers. Immediately one might think of Hollis Frampton’s (nostalgia) (US 1971) or Chris Marker’s La Jetée (France 1962). So why filmmakers from Japan? We’re following a thread. Cinema Project has hosted a number of contemporary Japanese artists whose work slide between film and digital or use the still photograph as a focal point. For example, artist Hitoshi Toyoda (fall 2009) works exclusively with 35mm slide film and only exhibits his work as a live silent slideshow. Makino Takashi (spring 2010) is a telecine master who uses the transfer process to translate initially film-based images into crackling digital landscapes. Tomonari Nishikawa (fall 2010) uses pin-hole cameras and single-framing techniques in both Super8 and 35mm. His three minute motion-picture Lumphini 2552 (2009) is constructed from black-and-white images of plants and trees shot using a 35mm still camera.

But maybe we can also imagine a thread that goes back in time. In several of the films in this program, a photograph is held in front of the lens and then somehow the camera moves inside it and through it. The photograph is tangible and at the same time opens to new dimensions. It’s as though these photographs become “material surfaces composed within reach, much like the gardens and walkways composed within a frame by gates and paper screens in traditional [Japanese] architecture that act as passages and not barriers” (Scott Nygren, Paper Screen: Video Art in a Japanese Context, 1987). Perhaps the transition between and mixing of formats is another sort of passage.

The first night of this program, heavy on the work of Takashi Ito, focuses on frame and structure. Directly this is the white frame of the photograph within the frame of the moving-image, but also the walls, the building, and the geometry within architectural spaces.  The second night, heavy on work from Toshio Matsumoto, focuses more on the inner drama and psychology that can inhabit these structures. But of course overlapping themes and ideas move between each night’s films.

Toshio Matsumoto (born 1932) was born in Nagoya, Aichi and graduated from Tokyo University in 1955. His first short was Ginrin, which he made in 1955, however his most famous film is Funeral Parade of Roses (also known as Bara no sorest), which heavily influenced Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange. Matsumoto has published many books of photography and is currently a professor and dean of Arts at the Kyoto University of Art and Design. He was also the President of the Japan Society of Image Arts and Sciences.

Takashi Ito (born 1956) was born in Fukuoka and is one of the leading experimental filmmakers in Japan. He graduated from the Art and Technology Department of Kyushu Institute of Design in 1983 where he studied with Toshio Matsumoto and during which he made his debut film Spacy in 1981 (Inagaki who created sound effects for the film was also a filmmaker and his classmate at the institute). Ito currently teaches at Kyoto University of Art and Design.

Cinema Project wishes to thank:
Toshio Matsumoto, Takashi Ito, Image Forum Tokyo, Kyosuke Kuroko, Japan Foundation Los Angeles, David Dinnell, Yale Union, Ace Hotel, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Ampersand Gallery and Fine Books, BIWA, Cast Iron Coding, Mary Francillon, Jason King, Andy Stout, Dan Bryant, and Molly Curtin.