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Encounter with Unusual Films / Naiqua Cinematheque: Screening of 8mm Films, Iimura Takahiko Solo Cinema Showcase

Language

Japanese

■ Alight on the platform of Shinbashi Station in Tokyo, and the sizable banner of Naiqua Gallery comes into view. Much talked about for its bizarre name (“Naiqua” is a transliteration of the Japanese word for “internal medicine”) and ambitious experimentalism, the gallery is described by its head, Miyata Kunio, as “a test tube into which anything can be placed, which anyone can occupy . . . a transparent and neutral vessel for arbitrary use.” Having presented underground cinema screenings and sculpture exhibitions in the past, Naiqua Gallery has now established a regular experimental film series entitled Naiqua Cinematheque. There are high hopes for this series to resuscitate the amateur cinema world, which lately has been bogged down in an excess of films. Recently the first event in the series was held: a screening of the films of Iimura Takahiko, already familiar from the pages of this magazine.

■ Turned into an acronym, Naiqua Gallery becomes “NG.” These letters are inscribed in large, thick strokes at the entrance to the gallery. The films shown here are indeed, according to the conventional wisdom of the cinema world today, “NG” (No Good) films, outtakes at best. It seems the letters at the entrance are a bold declaration of Naiqua Cinematheque’s ambition to champion such films and ensure they receive the credit they deserve.

■ The event was well attended. After the screening a symposium was held for those too riveted by, or indignant about, what they had seen to drag themselves away. Here I would like to relate the content of that symposium. The program and the symposium participants, in the order their remarks were made, are as follows. I should note that parts of this article are fleshed out by my own reconstructions of the words spoken at the symposium.

■ Program
Kuzu (Junk) Music: Kosugi Takehisa
Dada ’62 Music: Tone Yasunao
Iro (Colors) Music: Tone Yasunao
De Sade Music: Machaut
6 x 6 Music: Takeda Akemichi

■ Symposium participants (in the order in which they spoke)
Hirata Sakio (Nichiei Science Film production manager)
Iimura Takahiko (creator of films shown at this screening)
Obayashi Nobuhiko (moderator / Eiga no Te no Kai [Filmmakers’ Association])
Takamatsu Jiro (artist)
Akasegawa Genpei (artist)
Satsuni To (novelist)
Oka Yoshiyuki (painter / member of Zenei Bijyutsu-kai [Avant-Garde Art Association])
Nagata Tomo’o
Oshima Tatsuo (film and art critic)
Takabayashi Yoichi (filmmaker) (88 mini-film pro)

■ August 10, 1963

■Symposium
Obayashi By the way, does anyone have opinions about any of the individual films? Like, “this part was interesting or this part wasn’t interesting,” that kind of thing?
Takamatsu De Sade was the most interesting. It was shot from just the right distance and there are a lot of interesting scenes, but then the camera starts to zoom in. Just when you want it to zoom in right on the center of the action the images become disjointed. That was interesting.
Akasegawa There was a lot that interested me besides the films themselves. The films themselves had a lot of problematic points when you compare them to something like Guernica (Alain Resnais, 1950), for example, but they were intriguing in principle. And I think only Mr. Iimura could have produced them. Like if you want to enlarge something in print, if you simply blow it up it turns all grainy, so you find another way to do it. But he insists on using precisely this technique.
Nagata Was that intentional?
Iimura It wasn’t especially intentional.
Akasegawa That’s what makes it interesting. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.
Satsuni What I find interesting is De Sade’s way of thinking. What makes it interesting is precisely the same thing that makes Iimura’s De Sade film interesting. Takamatsu I thought 6 x 6 was fresh. In particular its relationship to the distant past, or rather its lack of relationship, fascinated me.
Satsuni I wanted to see more of that kind of thing. That atmosphere that was reminiscent of a porn movie. Like the scenes in the apartment, those were good. But the best part was that bizarre sound.
Oka  In 6 x 6, there’s that part where the man and woman come out carrying a box. What becomes of that?
Iimura That’s nothing in particular, it’s just a prop.
Oka I wanted to see more of that. I wondered what became of that box.
Nagata It would have been good to assign more meaning to that.
Satsuni There’s a Polish film with a scene where they come out of the sea carrying a wardrobe [Roman Polanski’s Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958)].
Oka Later in the film they take the wardrobe back out to sea, don’t they?
Obayashi Right, the wardrobe is carried by two men.
Oka I wanted to know more about the role or the meaning of that box in Mr. Iimura’s film. Was it like, the stepladder turned into the crown, or something?
Takamatsu His camera angles were innovative. Sometimes the background was hidden by something in the foreground. We can’t see the whole picture, we can only see part of it. We get frustrated because we want to see everything that’s going on. There’s something ascetic about it. I also recalled that wardrobe scene from the Polish film, but Mr. Iimura’s aesthetic is different, it’s drier.
Nagata What was the music in De Sade?
Iimura That’s 14th-century sacred music by a composer named Machaut. I slowed the tape speed down. Yesterday I played it at normal speed, and in the past I’ve sped it up. I try to experiment with different approaches.
Akasegawa Slowing it down turns it into something melancholy, like a funeral dirge. It seems to take on a different meaning altogether.
Iimura They’re singing, but it sounds like some kind of monologue, doesn’t it?
Takamatsu It sounds like a nursery rhyme or something. And the music for 6 x 6 as well. That repeated chant of anonioigahananoanawoshigekisurutomodame —at first it sounds like nonsense, but then you realize it has a meaning, they’re saying ano nioi ga hana no ana o shigeki suru to mo dame, “when that smell hits my nostrils, I can’t stand it . . ” It goes from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Satsuni What were your intentions in the way you edited De Sade?
Iimura It’s supposed to be a morality play. But when you make a morality play the normal way it’s boring, so I tried to accentuate the vulgarity.
SatsuniIt didn’t look like a morality play to me. (laughs)
Oshima If you ask me, Mr. Iimura needs to slice up the footage he shoots, rethink the plotline and rearrange it before it can be called a film. If you just line things up sequentially, the camera remains extraneous to the action. If you just shoot footage and leave it as it is, without any vision internally tying it together, it won’t be transmuted into anything more than a series of images. Mr. Iimura obviously has something real that he wants to express, but the films appear to be simply a series of subjects filmed in sequence: a bald, no-frills presentation of realism, but the reality doesn’t experience any transformations. That’s a fatal flaw right there.
Takamatsu In the films of Antonioni, for example, there are long shots of scenery with nothing happening in them whatsoever. In a lot of cases it makes you feel just as if you’re inside one of the character’s heads, seeing through their eyes. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about?
Oshima In those cases, the director is presenting houses or buildings as mere geometric patterns, but it becomes problematic when viewers realize that what they’re seeing is just geometry. The question is whether Mr. Iimura has the sense or the vision to capture objects in this way.
Takamatsu In a case like that, the objects are subjectively de-contextualized or alienated, what the French call dépaysement, but I think maybe in Iimura’s films they’re put through the same process in an objective rather than a subjective manner.
Nagata In Antonioni’s films I think the dépaysement is done intentionally. But with Mr. Iimura it’s unintentional, and that’s what makes the objects subjected to this dépaysement interesting.
Obayashi I guess from Mr. Iimura’s point of view, when Antonioni infuses some sort of meaning into a mundane landscape, some bland scenery with nothing in particular going on becomes a stand-in for the character’s mental landscape, and that’s a kind of calculation that takes the viewer for a ride psychologically, a kind of psychological trick. What’s interesting about Mr. Iimura’s films is that, carried to their logical extreme, we get films with neither a director nor a cameraman. We just get scenery with people doing things. And there’s a bare minimum of effort made to transform these psychologically into something else within the context of the film. In other words, there is minimum editing. That’s the way I understand it, and I have to say it’s an intriguing way to go about making films.
Iimura Like I said, my role is just to provide footage. All of us have hidden parts of our lives, and under normal circumstances we can’t watch other people going about their day-to-day private lives. So, in a film like 6 x 6, I shot footage of the daily life of a married couple without interfering and without manipulating the image with the camera or with editing. They aren’t putting on a show for the camera. If I came up with some contrivance in order to make it into a “film,” the whole thing would become a sham. Seeing a movie should be more than a visual experience, it should be a virtual experience.
Oshima Mr. Iimura, do you think of your films as stream-of-consciousness works or something like that?
Iimura No, I don’t.
Oshima Well, that’s a problem right there.
Takamatsu  The subjectivity isn’t well-developed enough for them to be stream-of-consciousness.
Oshima If they aren’t stream-of-consciousness, if they’re just raw footage, then they end up as crap realism. They don’t look like automatism, not as it is described in the first Surrealist Manifesto. That’s where the problem comes in. If what Mr. Obayashi said about your films is correct then you’re on the right track, but I don’t think it is. I think, instead, that you’re pursuing the drama of life and death itself. And I think you’re right to take this direction. But it’s a challenge. Obayashi The way Mr. Oshima describes your direction and the way I was thinking of it are diametric opposites, but maybe that’s only fitting since you do have a lot of contradictions going on.
Oka It’s because the methodology is not well defined.
Obayashi Listening to you talk, Mr. Iimura, I thought that maybe stream-of-consciousness would be a good approach to take. When I’m talking to you normally, what you say only goes so far, and never actually gets around to answering the question at hand, don’t you agree? (laughs)
Iimura I think it’s good to talk about all kinds of different topics. I just don’t want to discuss film theory. (laughs)
Oshima In Dada ’62, you blur the focus by adjusting the projector while showing the film, or you zoom in so that the image overflows from the edges of the screen, or you stop the film, change the speed and so forth.
Iimura Tone Yasunao’s score for the soundtrack consists of various symbols written on a graph. I use these, interpreting them to adjust the focus and zoom and so forth. There’s an extra line added to the notation that represents the axis of time, and we follow that line when presenting the work.
Takamatsu That produced interesting effects.
Oshima The effects are interesting. But they don’t change the film itself, which is the core of the work, and that film itself is a weak one. When we hear Mr. Iimura’s explanation of the films, we can understand his intentions. His intentions are understandable, but the films themselves are a muddle. I think they’re basically flawed because the methodology isn’t defined. There are two problems: the power of the vision the filmmaker wants to express, and, how this vision is communicated to the viewer, in other words, its methodology.
Takamatsu Perhaps Mr. Iimura’s presenting his own daily existence to us is in itself a methodology.
Iimura  I think shooting footage is enough for me. Rather than making movies, I think providing people with the raw footage and letting them interpret it is a faster way to arrive at where I’m trying to get to. For me to slice it up and re-edit it would be a waste of time. I provide the raw materials and each person is free to take it home and make of it what they wish. Everyone wants to encounter a vision when they go to see a film. If you want to be a visionary, go ahead, but I don’t think the filmmaker has a responsibility to fulfill that desire.
Akasegawa Perhaps I mean this in a different sense, but your films do seem to lack a sense of responsibility to the viewer.
Takamatsu Have you thought of collecting fragments of newsreels and making them into some kind of montage?
Iimura That is something I would like to try if I get an opportunity.
Obayashi I wonder what you would make out of them. After all, if you scrape together some discarded footage and make it into a basic film, in other words, edit it, you may come up against filmmaking issues like what Mr. Oshima has discussed and Matsumoto Toshio has before him—where within the time frame of the film to make what kind of cuts and how many, all these choices reflect the intentions of the filmmaker. That seems to go against the approach that you advocate.
Oshima That’s a problem, to be sure.
Kawani Maybe you could stuff a canister full of film scraps, then just thread those on to the projector. (laughs)
Oshima Yeah, you can start with whatever you happen to get your hands on. But then you still run up against the problem of making it into a montage.
Obayashi I wonder what Mr. Iimura would come up with in a situation like that. I’d like to see it. We’ve talked about it before, but it’s never gone beyond the talking stage.
Takabayashi When I think about it in relation to my own work, as well, I have a positive impression of Mr. Iimura’s non-subjectivity and use of dépaysement.
Nagata  What was it that was printed on that paper that you handed out to everyone in the venue?
Iimura Those were negatives. My films are all positives, so I thought I’d let everyone take negatives home as a souvenir.
Oshima That makes sense, once you explain it, that is.
Obayashi Explanation included at no extra charge. (laughs)
Oshima Even if we understand your intentions, it’s not sufficient if the images don’t move us in and of themselves.
Takabayashi You’ve got to transcend banality and not just show it. I think you’re filming any old thing a bit too carelessly, don’t you think? You seem to think just about the material you’re interested in filming and ignore the presentation.
Iimura Yeah, I know I’m a bit rough and careless, I’m aware of this.
Takabayashi Even if you’re talking about ugliness and beauty, it doesn’t work just to suddenly show us something ugly on the grounds that you’re going to transform our perception of beauty. It looks as if you’re engagement with ugliness is too simple. Shooting the ugly in order to create something beautiful requires a more carefully considered approach than the one you’re taking. What you’re doing is not capable of transforming our current definition of beauty. This doesn’t only apply to you, of course. But what you’ve done doesn’t even have the potential to scandalize—it’s just in poor taste.
Iimura Hey, thanks a lot. (laughs)
Takabayashi And why did you remove Ai (Love) from the program?
Oka What is Love?
Obayashi It’s a film showing sexual intercourse in ultra close-up.
Takabayashi You should have showed that one. That would have put your point across.
Obayashi I agree, that’s your best film. I was shocked that it was omitted.
Takabayashi That one really succeeds in transmogrifying the image into something else. After watching it, you get the urge to re-think what film is all about, at least I did.
Iimura I thought of showing it, and I brought the film along.
Takabayashi Well, you should have. If you had, you could have avoided certain criticisms and disagreements like that ones you had with Mr. Hirata.
Oka Well, I’d like to see it sometime. (laughs)
SatsuniMr. Iimura, what do you think about when you’re making films?
Iimura Hmm, well, recently with TV and everything, cinema is becoming disconnected from the movie theater. I’d like to turn the medium back into one that is oriented to the movie theater.
Akasegawa But you don’t mean the kind of commercial movie theaters you find on the street corner, do you?
Iimura  Of course I don’t mean movie theaters as part of the entertainment industry. I mean any kind of public venue, something like a train platform will do.
Takabayashi Looking at it from another angle, a platform could be seen as a movie theater, for sure.
Iimura That’s right.
Takamatsu I’m looking forward to seeing where you go with that.

Transcription of symposium, 1963. Translated into English by Colin Smith.