[This film essay tracks ways in which six directors have filmed Tokyo’s
transport system as a cinematic vehicle for exploring socio-economic and
political senses of place in the city. The voiceover is a collage of writings drawn
from anthropology, urbanism, and visual theory, while the images and soundtrack
are taken from the original films.
throughout these films by way of shots of (or taken from) Tokyo’s subway,
commuter trains, taxis and elevators. Different from American road movies,
where wide roads stretch ‘out west’ and evoke notions of freedom, these films are
routed and rooted in describing the densely built city and its defined social
practices. While on one hand they document journeys that are bound to iron
tracks and scheduled for commuting, they also sidetrack into territories of
its departure point the year 1960, Tracked also traces the profound influence of Japanese filmmakers (Ozu,
Tsuchimoto, Adachi) on their European successors (Wenders, Marker, Grandrieux),
and more widely, how Tokyo has so thoroughly captured the imaginations of
people in and outside Japan. A seminal decade in Japan’s social history, the
1960s witnessed unprecedented economic growth, continual political and cultural
influence from the West (particularly America), and an increasingly prominent
role for youth in society. As Japan’s capital city, Tokyo found itself in the
thoroughfare of such changes. While the renewal of the US-Japan Security Treaty
(1960), the Tokyo Olympics (1964) and the Osaka World Expo (1970) put Japan on
the world stage in this decade, many Japanese questioned the benefits of their
country’s supposed boom and, with increasing discontent, they took to the
the economic bubble, after the global financial crisis, and after Fukushima,
Tokyo is a very different place. However, certain tracks from the 1960s have left
traces. With Prime Minister Abe altering Japan’s military legislation, and
nuclear power plants being re-opened, people are once again occupying Tokyo’s
streets in protest. In 2020 Tokyo will host the Olympics again and is preparing
itself for a demonstration of the nation’s recovery from the Great Eastern
Earthquake (as did the 1964 Olympics, in its post-war recovery). The
Tokyo-Kanazawa shinkansen line and a proposed mag-lev train are just two
examples of the way in which Japan is mapping out this recovery and mobility. Down
the line, films that map the corresponding spatial and social effects of such
mobility will invite further ‘tracking,’ and couple to the rolling stock of
city films presented here.]
Ozu, Yasujiro. Late Autumn (Akibiyori). Japan, 1960, colour,
Wenders, Wim. Tokyo Ga. Germany/ Japan, 1985, colour, 92 min.
Tsuchimoto, Noriaki. On the Road: A Document (Dokyumento rojō).
Japan, 1964, black and white, 54 min.
Hirohisa KOIKE (b. 1979, Japan) and Becca VOELCKER (b. 1990, U.K) both explore place in terms of geopolitical resonances, associated memories, and sensory importance. In both their practices, even when the human body is not visible, an embodied sense of place is expressed through attention to traces left by people, or to textures and visual rhythms present within landscapes.
This is their first joint exhibition, and both present new work. KOIKE's photographs explore liminal spaces such as mountain borders, forests or seas, taken in Japan and Latvia this summer. These images evoke personal terrains of emotion and experience, as well as political frontiers (Latvia is a former Soviet-ruled nation, whose land and sea border five countries). Exploring a similarly complex place in terms of its history of independence and subordination, VOELCKER's photographs of Ishigaki (Okinawa) document everyday life, and explore the continuum between people and the island they inhabit.
Hitomi is from Osaka, and after she moved to Ishigaki, her parents shut up shop and joined her on the island, to open a new oden
ya. The shop's meishi (business card)
and sign read‘Oden: made by father, mother, and sometimes
daughter too.’ Oden is a dish of
various ingredients stewed in soy-flavoured dashi.
Hitomi’s parents are proud that they make their dashi (soup stock made from fish and kelp) fresh each day, and
don’t use bottled soy sauce. Diners select from a deep and compartmented tray
of dashi, which steams at the
counter. It contains hard-boiled eggs, daikon
radish, konnyaku (a solidified jelly
made from the root of devil’s tongue), and
chikuwa (a tube shaped fish-paste cake). The oden ya opens at 8 pm, gets busy after midnight, and remains so
right up until closing at 3 am. Many of the customers work in other restaurants and come for oden
after closing time. Oden is warming, easy to digest, and generally low in calories. Another late-night dish served in the oden ya is dendashi gohan, a bowl of cooked rice (gohan) with the oden's dashi, and a raw egg. Stirred up with chopsticks, the rice becomes a warm, soft porridge. This type of dish is eaten for breakfast throughout Japan. And after all, it's nearly breakfast time by the time the oden ya closes.
Employment in Ishigaki varies from local services such as the
kindergarten and tatami makers, to
diving rentals and hotels. Little English is spoken on the island, and
most of the tourists are Japanese. I cycle slowly through the town looking at
the local businesses and deciphering their signs and shop fronts. Barbershop,
key cutting shop, a samisen workshop,
sugarcane and souvenir shops, post office, architects practice, bento(lunchbox)
shop, and a tatami makers’. Pulling
up outside the tatami makers’ open
roller shutters, I ask a man in his seventies, who is working inside, if I can
watch and photograph as he uses a machine to sew a decorative tape along the
edge of the mats. Soon his wife pads towards us and shows me the huge needle
and thread once used when they sewed tapes onto the tatami by hand. She tells me about their grown-up children living
in Tokyo, and shows me the sacks of straw in the back. Then we look at the
family’s certificates – similar framed certificates line most offices. She gives me
some iced tea and the three of us sit in their back room with their little dog
– which is dressed in clothes, as most Japanese dogs are.
'Every need, say hunger for fresh air or food, is a lack that denotes at least a temporary absence of adequate adjustment with surroundings. But it is also a demand, a reaching out into the environment to make good the lack and to restore adjustment by building at least a temporary equilibrium. Life itself consists of phases in which the organism falls out of step with the march of surrounding things and then recovers unison with it – either through effort or by some happy chance. And, in a growing life, the recovery is never mere return to a prior state, for it is enriched by the state of disparity and resistance through which it has successfully passed. If the gap between organism and environment is too wide, the creature dies. If its activity is not enhanced by temporary alienation, it merely subsists.'
Dewey, J. 2005 (1934) Art As Experience. London: Penguin. [p.p.12-13]
'Memories, not necessarily conscious but retentions that have been organically incorporated into the very structure of the self, feed present observation. They are the nutriment that gives body to what is seen. As they are rewrought into the matter of the new experience, they give the newly created object expressiveness. [...]
'To the being fully alive, the future is not ominous but a promise; it surrounds the present as a halo. It consists of possibilities that are felt as a possession of what is now and here. In life that is truly life, everything overlaps and merges. But all too often we exist in apprehensions of what the future may bring, and we are divided within ourselves. Even when not overanxious, we do not enjoy the present because we subordinate it to that which is absent. Because of the frequency of this abandonment of the present to the past and future, the happy periods of an experience that is now complete because it absorbs into itself memories of the past and anticipations of the future, come to constitute an aesthetic ideal. Only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with particular intensity the moments in which the past reenforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is'.
Dewey, J. 2005 (1934) Art As Experience. London: Penguin. [p.p. 93; 17]