Friday, October 24, 2008

Japanese experimental video pioneer Takahiko Iimura

by Chris MaGee

I always want to highlight the widest spectrum of Japanese cinema on the blog, not just classic and genre films. I think it’s important for people to see that there’s more to Japanese film than samurai swords and gore. Because of this I’ll occasionally write something on experimental film and video artists. Today I wanted to do one of those quick write ups about one of the most important contemporary video artists, Takahiko Iimura.

Born in Tokyo in 1937 Iimura studied at Keio University and became fascinated by experimental cinema. The only problem was that there was virtually none available in Japan during the 50s and 60s, so Iimura’s only recourse was to read about the pioneering works of directors like Jack Smith and Stan Brakhage. Based on his reading he began to make Dadaist and Surrealist inspired films, as well as documenting the work of butoh choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata, but after moving to New York in 1966 and collaborating with Fluxus artist (and soon to be John Lennon soul mate) Yoko Ono and experimental composer Alvin Lucier his films became more and more minimal and conceptually rigorous.

This shift in his work was due in large part to his discovering the medium of video in the 1970s. Iimura almost immediately fell in love with video’s immediacy. No longer did he have to spend long periods of time and large sums of money getting film stock developed, now he could videotape and view his footage on the spot, and it was this immediacy that informed his concepts on identity and exactly what is and who is being observing in his video work. For example his 1972 video “Self Identity” is made up entirely of a single shot of himself repeating “I am Takahiko Iimura. I am not Takahiko Iimura.”

From the 90s until today Iimura has moved from video to multi-media, computer-based videos and performances. One of his best known “AIUEONN: Six Features” (from which the still above is taken) is concerned with multiculturalism, language and translation by having Iimura pronounce both the English and Japanese vowel sounds and then tweaking the footage digitally to exaggerate his facial expressions.

Iimura seems pretty possessive of his work, so there’s virtually none available online through the usual file-sharing sites. What I could find I’ve posted below: an excerpt from his 1969 film “Face” as well as a video of a lecture he gave at Carnegie Mellon University in hich you can see a sampling from “AIUEONN “. I guess in the end we’re left, like Iimura was, to read about experimental film and video as opposed to viewing it… Although you can read a lot at his website and pick up ”The Collected Works of Takahiko Iimura, Vol. 1”, a DVD put out by Microcinema.

excerpt from “Face” (1969)

Carnegie Mellon lecture featuring “AIUEONN”

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