A selection of my favorite photographs from the 2016 cherry blossom season. Most of these photographs were taken in Toyonaka, which is in the northern part of Osaka Prefecture, but a few of the mistier ones were taken on Yoshino Mountain in Nara, on a beautiful rainy day in spring.
Photo data, from the top:
1) Yoshino Mountain. (Voigtlander Bessa-T, 50mm Nokton, Fuji Provia)
2) Toyonaka. (Voigtlander Bessa-L, 15mm Heliar, Kodak Ektar 100)
3) Toyonaka. (Voigtlander Bessa-T, 50mm Nokton, Fuji Provia)
4) Toyonaka. (Voigtlander Bessa-L, 15mm Heliar, Kodak Ektar 100)
5) Yoshino Mountain. (Voigtlander Bessa-T, 50mm Nokton, Fuji Provia)
6) Toyonaka. (Voigtlander Bessa-L, 15mm Heliar, Kodak Ektar 100)
7) Yoshino Mountain. (Ricoh GRD2, digital)
8) Life and death in Toyonaka. (Voigtlander Bessa-L, 15mm Heliar, Kodak Ektar 100)
Filed under: Japan, Kansai, nature, Osaka, photography | 1 Comment
Tags: 15mm Heliar, 50mm Nokton, お花見, cherry blossoms, film photography, Ricoh GRD2, sakura, Voigtlander Bessa-L, Voigtlander Bessa-T, 桜
Riding the Osaka Wheel takes you up above the Expo 70 Commemorative Park and you end up looking down on Okamoto Taro’s famous Tower of the Sun, the centerpiece of the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka, as if from a helicopter. I’ve already written about the way in which the traces of the Expo can be read on the surface skin of the park as a kind of archeological record of future past, but riding the Osaka Wheel accentuates this effect. Looking over at the park its easy to imagine the grounds covered in the futuristic forms of the national pavilions, and crowds massing through through the entrance gates to get a closer look at the Tower of the Sun.
The gondolas of the Osaka Wheel have glass bottoms, so as they lift you out and away from the boarding platform you can look down at the bicycles parked below as they get smaller and smaller, their repetitive shapes forming an inadvertent Andreas Gursky photograph. Looking back in the direction of Expo Park you can see the monorail station and the tracks snaking off into the distance, towards their terminal stop at Osaka Itami Airport. In the other direction Osaka sprawls out between mountain ranges, a congeries of concrete, steel, plaster, and glass that perfectly embodies Manuel De Landa’s figuration of the city as a kind of human exoskeleton. In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, De Landa writes about the mineralization of soft organic tissue and the aftereffects of this event, including the ultimate appearance of the nodal urban exoskeletons that we live in now:
In the organic world, for instance, soft tissue (gels and aerosols, muscle and nerve) reigned supreme until 500 million years ago. At that point, some of the conglomerations of fleshy matter-energy that made up life underwent a sudden mineralization, and a new material for constructing living creatures emerged: bone. It is almost as if the mineral world that had served as a substratum for the emergence of biological creatures was reasserting itself, confirming that geology, far from having been left behind as a primitive stage of the earth’s evolution, fully coexisted with the soft, gelatinous newcomers.
And slightly later:
The human endoskeleton was one of the many products of that ancient mineralization. Yet that is not the only geological infiltration that the human species has undergone. About eight thousand years ago, human populations began mineralizing again when they developed an urban exoskeleton: bricks of sun-dried clay became the building materials of their homes, which in turn surrounded and were surrounded by stone monuments and defensive walls. The exoskeleton served a purpose similar to its internal counterpart: to control the movement of human flesh in and out of a town’s walls. The urban exoskeleton also regulated the motion of many other things: luxury objects, news, and food, for example.
The sprawling carapace of a city that fills the valley zone between central Osaka and Kyoto is itself a kind of palimpsest, the mineralized expression of the historical trade along the Yodo River that made Osaka a commercial powerhouse, beginning in the Heian period. The paths of this early trade are duplicated in the train lines that run between Osaka and Kyoto today, following the path of the watershed that originates at Lake Biwa and eventually runs out into Osaka Bay. This watershed provides the drinking water for some 24 million people and is the hydrological circulation system that keeps the city alive.
The Osaka Wheel takes about twenty minutes to complete a single rotation, moving your field of vision from Rokko Mountain and the Kobe area, through to downtown Osaka, and then finally to the sprawling zone that extends out towards Mount Ikoma, on the border of Nara Prefecture. There’s plenty to take in.
(You can read Part I of this two-part entry here.)
Filed under: architecture, culture, design, history, Japan, Kansai, Osaka, society | Leave a Comment
Tags: A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Expo 70, Expo 70 Commemoration Park, Expo City, 観覧車, Ferris wheel, Kansai watershed, Manuel De Landa, mineralization, Okamoto Taro, Osaka, Osaka Wheel, REDHORSE OSAKA WHEEL, Taro Okamoto, Tower of the Sun, trade history, urban space, urban sprawl, urbanization, 大阪, 太陽の塔, 岡本 太郎, 万博記念公園
A visit to the Expo 70 Commemoration Park is a visit to the ruins of the future. The 1970 World Expo held in Osaka was one of the last great future-oriented modernist productions held on an international scale. The theme of the Expo was “Progress and Harmony for Mankind,” a vision of a united humanity that chimes sympathetically with the contemporary ethos of Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek, but feels far, far away from the fragmented and difficult present we find ourselves in now.
Still, I like to think that the Expo 70 Park holds below it’s surface the palimpsestic bones of a future that yet may still be realized, though clearly in a different form than the plastic pop future of washing machines for humans, inflatable plastic pavilions, and the mini-skirted psychedelia of the 21st century as imaged through the conceptual lens of Swinging London.
The architectural models pictured above can be found in the Expo 70 Pavilion, a museum dedicated to documenting the Expo experience. The building itself is the former Steel Pavilion, designed by Kunio Maekawa, and the theme of the building was centered around the idea of a “Song of Steel.” A small orchestra of futuristic musical instruments designed by Francois Baschet was exhibited and a few of the percussive horns, which can still be played by visitors, are to be found in the lobby of the Expo 70 Pavilion. In the center of the building is the Space Theater, which is registered in the official Pavilion pamphlet as “the first stereophonic music hall in the world”: a galaxy of speakers hang from the ceiling of a round auditorium in which a variety of concerts were performed, as well as a pretty psychedelic light show. Unfortunately, the sound system no longer functions.
As you walk through Expo 70 Park you can imagine the fullness of the Expo by the pieces that remain, and through the infrastructural residues that have shaped the surrounding area (I’m looking at you, Osaka Monorail). Just across from the current site of the Expo Park is a new shopping center, Expo City, that is built on the old bones of what was once the Expoland amusement park. Where the Expoland Ferris wheel once stood, now stands the Osaka Wheel, Japan’s largest Ferris wheel. Riding up in the Ferris wheel, already the ghostly palimpsest of the preexisting Ferris wheel, you can see the patterns of infrastructure below — the traces of what has been erased, what remains, and a past that is a future that the future might still become.
(You can read Part II of this two-part entry here.)
Filed under: architecture, culture, design, history, Japan, Kansai, museum, Osaka | Leave a Comment
Tags: architectural models, architecture, experimental musical instruments, Expo 70, Expo 70 Commemoration Park, Expo 70 Pavilion, Francois Baschet, futurism, Kunio Maekawa, remains, retro-futurism, steel instruments, 前川 國男, 万博記念公園
Shin Godzilla (シン・ゴジラ — Shin Gojira), the new Godzilla movie co-directed by Hideaki Anno (of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame) and Shinji Higuchi (who worked on the Gamera movies from the 1990s), turns out to be a scantily concealed allegory about the failure of the Japanese government to deal adequately with the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant that followed the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region. The screenplay, written by Anno, draws a great deal of attention to the weak decision-making of government officials, as well as the complete lack of adequate systems for gathering up-to-date information, a total breakdown in communication between administrative sections, and an almost willful blindness to the initial severity of the situation. These criticisms almost precisely replicate those put forth in the final report of the Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company, which, according to an article from The Guardian, concluded that the “The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties.” The final determination of the report was that the disaster had been almost entirely “man-made.”
1. Godzilla and nuclear catastrophe
The original 1954 Godzilla (ゴジラ — Gojira), directed by Ishiro Honda, introduced Godzilla to the world as an explicit metaphor for atomic devastation. Godzilla’s rampage and the destruction wreaked upon Tokyo was intended to reflect the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla may have all the destructive force of a natural disaster but is, in fact, fundamentally man-made — a radioactively mutated gorilla-whale that is the product of of nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific.
The creature in Shin Godzilla (which literally means “new Godzilla” in Japanese) is also man-made — this time a product of barrels of nuclear waste dumped into the ocean by the United States (the US was far from alone in this practice — and Japan itself is responsible for dumping its fair share of radioactive waste into the ocean). Anno’s decision to refer to the creature as “new” Godzilla functions in two ways. First, Anno is signalling a break from the evolutionary arc of the Godzilla franchise, in which Godzilla is initially featured as a chaotic force of destruction but rapidly transforms into a benevolent, and at times even goofy, protector of Japan. It’s not much of a stretch to draw a parallel between this representational trend and the way in which the threat of the atom bomb was ‘domesticated’ in the form of nuclear power under the auspices of the Atoms for Peace program. In this sense Anno’s “new” Godzilla can be seen as a new version of the original Godzilla, a reemergence of a cinematic ethos that was meant to be chaotic and terrifying rather than comforting and entertaining. Secondly, Anno’s “new” Godzilla is meant to be new in the sense of iteration: the first Godzilla was Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and nuclear testing in the Pacific, while the latest Godzilla wears havoc in the guise of the reactor core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
What’s remarkable about Shin Godzilla is the way in which the the trajectory of the movie so closely matches the timeline of the meltdowns at the Daiichi plant. First there is an explosion at a tunnel that runs under Tokyo Bay, but rather than doing anything about such a potentially catastrophic event all of the parties involved — including Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line transit officials, the mayor’s office, regional safety officials, and representatives of the national government — end up in a series of round-robin meetings in which everyone keeps repeatedly assuring each other that everything is under control while, outside of the meeting rooms, everything is spiraling further and further out of control. When Godzilla first appears on land — in the form of a mutated sea creature that looks a bit like a giant confused chicken carcass with lots of teeth that’s spewing a red, blood-like substance everywhere — the official response is for everyone to sit around and watch events unfold on television while doing literally nothing. Godzilla destroys neighborhood after neighborhood on the waterfront while those in charge of disaster management sit and watch it happen, in much the same way that the Kan government waited for three days after the meltdowns had already begun to convene a panel of nuclear experts. The description of the communication breakdowns and delays surrounding the Fukushima disaster is worth reading in full if you want to get an idea of just how badly the disaster was mismanaged — and just how incompetent the response to Godzilla’s first foray into Tokyo is portrayed as being in Anno’s film.
The scenes showing the destruction of the waterfront district of Tokyo are exacting recreations of the damage caused by the tsunami all along the coast of the Tohoku region and the landscapes of piled rubble left behind by Godzilla’s rampage could be from a 2011 photo documentary.
In the end, Godzilla is stopped by, essentially, being frozen. A team led by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (if the opaqueness of his title doesn’t give you some idea of the bureaucratic convolutions involved in this movie, then nothing will) ascertains that Godzilla’s blood works as a kind of cooling system and they speculate that if they add coagulant to the system it will trigger a reaction that will cause Godzilla to freeze. The scenes of the water trucks surrounding the prone Godzilla and pumping coagulant into the creature’s open mouth may look hilariously like some kind of complicated maneuver in a dental office but these scenes also mirror the initial emergency response to the overheating reactors at the Daiichi plant in which a fleet of trucks with cranes and water canons filled the reactors with sea water in an effort to cool them enough to keep them from exploding. The plan to save Tokyo by freezing Godzilla also recalls Tepco’s ice wall — the underground barrier of frozen earth constructed in a (failed) effort to limit the amount of groundwater seeping into the Daiichi site and keep releases of contaminated water from entering the Pacific ocean.
In the final sequence of the movie, Godzilla — skin blanched white with frost — looms over what remains of the Tokyo skyline, frozen mid-attack in an aggressive stance that figures dormancy as threat. Godzilla’s enormous unmoving bulk radiates an inescapable static menace that is the tangible analogue of the crisis at the Daiichi plant that remains largely out of sight and out of mind — temporarily neutralized, but with the chronic potential of returning explosively to life.
2. Let’s have a meeting: Verfremdungseffekt
If Anno’s critique of the managerial incompetence surrounding the 2011 nuclear crisis was limited to the hulking metaphor of Godzilla as harbinger of radioactive doom, then Shin Godzilla would be, in many ways, a remake without much of a difference. However, on a formal level what Anno does with Shin Godzilla is remarkable. Unlike any action movie I’ve ever seen, Shin Godzilla is characterized by the way in which the flow of action is constantly interrupted by meetings. These meetings involve a great deal of discussion; in fact, there is so much dialogue in these scenes that the actors are forced to deliver their lines at an unnaturally fast pace in order to fit them all in within the running time of the film. The lines are generally delivered in a flat, matter-of-fact tone, and sometimes accompanied by supplementary informational text that covers significant portions of the screen, often to the point where the speakers themselves start to disappear behind a veil of language. The meetings are interminable and make up perhaps 50% of the total screen time of the movie.
Unlike movies centered around a conflict among government officials in which the conflict itself becomes the source of drama, here the possibility of drama is curtailed by the lack of dominant personalities and the slow pace of the meetings, which purposely drain momentum from the film. These are meetings that often seem to go nowhere and result in nothing getting done. The meetings that involve the Prime Minister are the most damning. In meeting after meeting the Prime Minister listens to a variety of opinions, and each and every time ends the session by replying “I understand,” a phrase that soon becomes evacuated of all meaning as it becomes clear that ‘understanding’ isn’t helping at all with the formulation of a decisive and effective plan of action. The Prime Minister’s repetition of this phrase becomes almost robotic, a pro forma exclamation that gets uttered simply because the Prime Minister knows that what’s expected of a Prime Minister is the performative utterance of just such phrases.
The stark aesthetic shifts between Godzilla’s grandiose destruction of urban infrastructure and the sterile boredom of the workaday meeting spaces where the emergency discussion sessions are held — shifts that completely break down the dynamic rhythms that have come to be associated with a typical action film — end up functioning almost as a kind of Brechtian alienation effect. Verfremdungseffekt — also known as the ‘alienation effect’ or ‘distancing effect’ — was a concept that was developed by Brecht, along with a series of accompanying staging techniques, with the intention of keeping audience members from psychologically identifying with the characters in a play (or movie). By preventing psychological identification, the audience members are able to approach a work on an intellectual level rather than an emotional level and draw their own conclusions about the content of a performance, rather than reading that content through the emotional lens of a particular character’s point of view. If there’s one thing that can be said about Anno’s depiction of the bureaucratic officialdom that forms the human core of Shin Godzilla, it’s that none of the characters are depicted with psychological depth — nor are we given any significant background about the characters’ personal lives, not even the kind of hasty shorthand that is often used in contemporary action movies to provide the ersatz emotional substance that is intended to make the heroic protagonists “relatable.”
It’s almost impossible to identify on an emotional level with any of the characters in Shin Godzilla, but that’s not the only way in which Anno’s film holds the viewer at a distance. Shin Godzilla almost entirely avoids the usual forms of sentimentality that are deployed in an effort to tug at audience heartstrings. There are no weeping hobbits here, or parents who are under the impression that their child has just perished in a collapsing apartment building only to subsequently discover the child happily playing away in a nearby sandbox. There is also a distinct lack of monster movie gore porn. Instead Anno gives us the anti-melodrama of clinical scenes of destruction that keep away from the type of operatic overload that has become the hallmark of so many contemporary action films. This is not to say that there is not plenty of dramatic destruction, but rather that the destruction is mostly framed objectively rather than through the panicked point of view of an observer in the thick of things, and it is not overly aestheticized. Anno often provides tactical aerial views of Godzilla carving paths of destruction through Tokyo that seem to call on the audience members to make sense of the patterns of Godzilla’s movement, as if asked to take on the role of objective kaiju scientists . . . or the role of critically engaged viewers, busily mapping the allegorical patterns of the film against the social and political analogs that link Shin Godzilla to the melted cores of reactor units 1, 2, and 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
3. A sting in the tail
At the close of the movie, the camera zooms in on the frozen tail of Godzilla, which is held high in the air. Emerging from the skin, seemingly in pain, are a series of humanoid forms that look something like skinless human mutations with fin-like protrusions sticking out of their backs. What are these humanoid forms? The movie doesn’t say. Are they a humanoid mob of radioactive zombies that are intended to be at the center of an upcoming sequel? Or are these humanoid figures just another example of Anno’s famously oblique storytelling? Perhaps these humanoids are bits of DNA picked up by Godzilla’s rampaging tail that have, through some kind of radioactive synthesis, resulted in a mutation. Or perhaps this is another metaphor, a message about human activity in the Anthropocene and the way in which we are all a part of of the natural disaster now.
Filed under: cinema, culture, film, Japan | 1 Comment
Tags: alienation effect, anti-sentimentality, ゴジラ, シン・ゴジラ, Bertolt Brecht, Brechtian, distancing effect, Fukushima Daiichi, Godzilla, Godzilla Resurgence, Hideaki Anno, nuclear disaster, political allegory, radiation, Shin Godzilla, Verfremdungseffekt
On August 14th I read some of my father’s poetry as part of an Obon event held at the wonderful MIIT House performance space, a converted butcher shop (hence the name) that often features avant-garde improvisational music and dance. Performers included, among others, Mangrove Kipling on electro-noise box, saxophonics by Jonas Labhart and Jerry Gordon, Yuki Maegaki on Taisho koto, butoh dance by Nonoko Sato and L. Sakai, and poetry by mjsalovaara.
I read two pieces by my father, Darrell DeVore. The first, for which I was joined by Jerry Gordon and mjsalovaara, was an arrangement for three voices based on excerpts from The Cosmic Music Handbook, written in San Francisco in 1973. The second piece was a series of haiku that my father wrote later in life, which I read in both English and Japanese. My translations, which do not follow proper haiku format, are sloppy at best, but have been cleaned up with a lot of help from Hiroki Iwai and Marié Abe.
My father died during the first year I was living in Japan and so was never able to visit. One of my father’s most passionate interests was bamboo; somewhere there is even a half-finished book on the subject that he was in the process of putting together. Bamboo was the medium of choice for many of the instruments he made – flutes, marimbas, bull roarers, rain sticks, butu, etc. – a few of which can be heard on the Terra Nova instruments page. Whenever I hear the sound of bamboo stalks bumping lightly together in the wind the sound of my father’s bamboo orchestra also appears in the guise of a psychic palimpsest and I come face to face with the ghost that lives curled inside my ear, opening the world up for listening.
The birds know enough
To fly above the danger.
Live in the moment.
The voice has it all.
Ancestral essence is heard
In continuum . . .
The sky, the Earth, the ocean.
Now it is always.
Sounds come from primal sources.
The wise ears listen.
Soaring unified in flight,
Always to the West.
White fog in the West.
September’s lowering sun.
That is the music.
Rattle of dry leaves.
The music of little means
Is big in big ears.
The sound of bamboo
Struck or blown or plucked or bowed,
Broadcasts seeds that grow.
Filed under: culture, Japan, Kansai, music, Osaka, performance, personal, poetry, sweet story of Trout Monroe | Leave a Comment
Tags: bamboo, Darrell DeVore, haiku, Hiroki Iwai, Jerry Gordon, Jonas Labhart, L. Sakai, Mangrove Kipling, Marie Abe, MIIT House, mjsalovaara, Nonoko Sato, Obon, poetry, The Cosmic Music Handbook, Yuki Maegaki
My friend Hiroki Iwai drew this wonderful portrait of me. It’s one of my favorite things ever.
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Tags: drawing, Hiroki Iwai, portrait
Is Okinawan pierrot cabaret what you’ve been craving? Then The Chondaras (ざ☆ちょんだらーず) are for you. Consisting of a core group of five members, all of whom appear in clown makeup and costumes that might be categorized as tropical vaudeville, The Chondaras cover everything from mellow Okinawan classics to frenzied originals – including a kind of cinematically crazed pseudo-Black Metal number about a giant red hot chili pepper that’s invading Japan. The Chondaras is fronted by Matsumoto Eijiro (松本 英二), of former Niseuo fame, though as a member of The Chondoras he goes by the alias Matsumoto-chondara (松本ちょんだら〜). Other members include Ryouta-chondara (亮太ちょんだら〜), Kana-chondara (加那ちょんだら〜), Kin-chondara (金ちゃんちょんだら〜), Hayabusa-chondara (隼ちょんだら〜), and Kimi-chondara (きみちょんだら〜). The Chondaras!
Filed under: Japan, Kansai, music, Osaka, performance | Leave a Comment
Tags: ざ ちょんだらーず, clown makeup, musical theater, neo-vaudeville, Okinawa music, Okinawan music, pierrot makeup, The Chondaras