by Chris MaGee
You find yourself in the middle of nowhere, say a forest or rocky hills. How do you explain where you are without the use of a map, a compass or some kind of satellite GPS system? This is a dilemma that, at least on the surface, the characters in the films of experimental art house directing team of Takuya Dairiki (above right) and Takashi Miura (above left) have spent the last three years presenting us with; and in many ways this kind of traveling without a map is what makes the work of this Osaka-born duo so very hard to describe. Dairiki and Miura, who often star in their own films, will put groups of young people out into remote wilderness locations and let their camera roll. The only points of reference that these lost youth can refer to is a line of trees, a mountain in the distance, or a rock along an overgrown path. In the same way to one is forced to describe the singularly minimalist work of Dairiki and Miura by referencing the nearest equivalent artistic landmarks - the natural beauty of an Ansel Adams photograph coupled with the patience-testing pacing of Béla Tarr's 7-hour masterpiece "Satantango", or a screenplay written by indie bad boy Harmony Korine shot by Dutch rock photographer Anton Corbjin. All of these artistic parallels help to locate us at or near where these two 30-year-old filmmakers are working from... but it doesn't. Call me a masochist, but it's the indefinable nature of Dairiki and Miura's work, coupled with its stunning black-and-white cinematography and sometimes frustrating obtuseness that makes this pair two director I love.
To back track a bit, Takuya Dairiki and Takashi Miura have been friends since childhood, and both grew up to be artists in their own right before they started making films together. Dairiki is an accomplished visual artist and printmaker as well as being a children's book illustrator. He's been awarded the Takei Takeo Japanese Children's Book Illustrator Encouragment Prize in 2006 as well as a Aomori International Triennale Munakata Shiko Special Prize for his woodblock prints in 2007. Miura is a photographer and cinematographer who has been honoured with an Esquire Digital Photography Prize in 2006. It's their combined talents, though, that have spread their names around the globe. Their film work has been screened at film festivals from Tokyo to Hamburg and Locarno while they've had their artwork displayed and galleries across Japan. The two have even assembled a two volume art book of their work under the title of "Homsona 1 & 2".
To write film by film plot synopsis of each of Dairiki and Miura's films would be a pointless task. Sitting somewhere between traditional film narrative and time-based media art their films can often appear aimless and unstructured. The two directors have admitted that they don't fix the duration or plot of their films beforehand although common themes are explored again and again so that each (barring their 2006 short "Always Raining in My Mind") reads like a return to the same world. But the questions arises again - what world is this? From 2007 and their film "The Seed" to their upcoming "feature" film "Helpless Stones" Dairiki and Miura have placed themselves and their friends out in the wilderness, mostly forests. Miura explained at the 48th annual Gijón International Film Festival the reasoning for stranding the characters in their films in such remote locations, "Forests are places where the gods live and are." It's an explanation that makes sense. Once viewers make the decision to slowly absorb (or endure as the case may be) their films Dairiki and Miura make it clear that these tracts of exquisite nature may be in this world or even more likely in the next world. The group of young men who climb a mountain in 2007's "The Seed" hoist what appears to be a black coffin on their shoulders, while the same group that navigate the forest in 2008's "Balloon Forest" make the grudging admission to each other that they're in fact dead.
If Dairiki and Miura are in fact mapping the otherworld with their films you wouldn't tell it by mood. Even though individual shots can extend for minutes on end with the camera positioned metres away from the action the subjects of the film, the young men (and the occasional woman) who find themselves stumbling through the woods like Samuel Beckett characters on a camping trip, are consistently in a playful mood. Maybe this tendency to play comes from Dairiki and Miura's shared childhood, but there is something infectious about watching grown men play balloon catch or chase each other playing a version of comboys and indians, especially if you consider how morose most cinematic depictions of the after life have been. If death is as much like going to summer camp as it is in Daikriki and Miura's films then none of us have anything to worry about. Still, there will be more than a few viewers who won't make it through 10-minutes of a Dairiki and Miura film. These are not multiplex films, in fact they are about as commercially viable as marketing perfume that smells like barbequed hamburgers (actually, I think that's already been done). If you do get a chance to see the work of Takuya Dairiki and Takashi Miura though please bolster your patience and settle in for a meditative and playful journey into the after life.
Check out the trailer for Takuya Dairiki and Takashi Miura's most recent 61-minute film "Helpless Stones" below.