Takashi Ito’s Film Works
- Original title
- Ito Takashi Eiga Sakuhin-shu
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 10 August 2010
by Catherine Munroe Hotes
The films of Takashi Ito straddle the genres of animation and experimental film. Most of Ito's films are animation in its fundamental sense of creating the illusion of movement through the rapid display of a sequence of images. Ito's best works strip cinema down to its bare bones of being a series of photographs projected on a screen in rapid succession. His most lauded film, Spacy (1980), was made by filming and re-filming a sequence of 700 photographs with mathematical planning and precision. Image Forum's exciting new release of Takashi Ito's Film Works (Takashi Ito Eiga Sakuhin-shu) marks the first time this visionary artist's work has been available on DVD. The 2 DVD set includes all the films that were previously available on the two volumes called Illumination Ghost that Image Forum released on video in 1998, plus extra material, all for less than half the price of the original video set.
Takashi Ito was born in Fukuoka in 1956, when the Japanese postwar experimental film movement was itself just in its infancy. In 1955 Toshio Matsumoto directed his first avant-garde work Silver Wheels together with the Jikken Kobo (experimental workshop) composer Toru Takemitsu. In that same year, photographers Kiyoji Otsuji and Yasuhiro Ishimoto collaborated with artist Saiko Tsuji to create what is considered the first postwar experimental animation Kinecalligraph. By the time that Ito was a student at Kyushu University of Art and Design in the late 1970s, there had been a flourishing of both experimental film (Matsumoto, Donald Richie, Takahiko Iimura, Shuji Terayama, Isao Kota, Mako Idemitsu et al.) and experimental animation (Yoji Kuri, Ryohei Yanagihara, Hiroshi Manabe, Taku Furukawa, Renzo Kinoshita et al.) in Japan.
In an article published in the Holland Animation Film Festival 2002 programme, Takashi Ito explains how his fascination with making his own films began when he was given an 8mm camera at university to shoot with. Watching the images he had shot, over and over again, Ito was struck by the power of cinema to bring inanimate things to life. He decided to try to use the medium to create "films like fascinating nightmares" and began experimenting with photographing and manipulating images of clouds. His experimentation with film was bolstered by his coming into contact with Fukuoka's independent screening organization FMF (Film-Makers' Field) where a wide range of experimental and personal films are screened.
Of all the films he saw during this formative period, Matsumoto's Atman (1975) made the most indelible impression. Ito describes the experience rapturously, both delighted and repelled by the violence and madness that it suggested to him: "Looking at this film, I thought that everybody has a mystery that is hidden in some deep part of one's heart, and the act of personally finding out what that is, the act of wanting to know who you are by means of that, perhaps is what we call expression... Amid the escalating images I seemed to notice the shape of an artist who was groping around like mad. By encountering this work my creative desire exploded."
Under the spell of Atman, Takashi Ito began experimenting with film. Just as he was becoming frustrated with his progress as a filmmaker, Matsumoto himself was appointed to the university and became a mentor to Ito. During this early period, Ito made a number of short films in which he experimented with the manipulation of space, time, and movement: Jiku (1977), Noh (1977), Movement (1978), Movement 2 (1979), and Movement 3 (1980). Ito has omitted these early works from the DVD set, beginning instead with his breakout work Spacy (1980), a film which established Ito as one of the most important experimental filmmakers of his generation. Borrowing sequential photography techniques used by Matsumoto in Atman (1975) and by Isao Kota in The Dutchman's Photographs (Orandajin no Shashin, 1976), Ito has constructed a film that transforms the ordinary architecture of the interior of a gymnasium into an extraordinary journey through space and time that has often been described by critics as a "cinematic rollercoaster". Time and space seem to collapse into themselves as the camera appears to move from the interior of the gym into a photograph of the same gym, and then the process repeats itself, but never in exactly the same way.
With Spacy, Ito sets up the theme that will recur throughout his films: using carefully chosen or constructed architectural spaces to represent an internal, emotional state of being. In just 10 minutes, Ito aimed to depict visually the madness within himself as a human being. Most audience members react quite viscerally to Ito's films. Sometimes this is due to the startling changes in perspective. At other times, because the images are not always photographed at 24 fps it can create a strobe effect that can give the spectators discomfort. As Ito himself described: "Film is capable of presenting unrealistic world as a vivid reality and creating a strange space peculiar to the media. My major intention is to change the ordinary everyday life scenes and draw the audience (myself) into a vortex of supernatural illusion by exercising the magic of films." (Image Forum, Oct 1984)
While this DVD set is not a complete works of Takashi Ito, the extras more than make up for this. Disc One features documentary footage of "The Dead Dance," a video installation that Takashi Ito exhibited in January 2009 in Kyoto, while Disc Two has a film of the interactive video installation and performance art Double/Bunshin that Ito did in collaboration with Butoh dancer Setsuko Yamada in 2009.
Both DVDs include slideshows of behind-the-scenes photographs of the making of Ito's films. These are tremendously exciting and informative. Not only does the slideshow give us a glimpse of Ito's meticulously drawn storyboards, but it also reveals the technical feats involved in the production of an experimental film. When one watches a film like Drill (1983), it appears as if the camera had been hung from a pendulum and swung back and forth around the genkan (Japanese-style lobby) of a typical Japanese student dormitory. The slideshow reveals that the film was made using black and white photographs of the genkan that were folded in the centre and mounted on a wooden frame for filming. All the secrets of how Ito achieved his mind-boggling results are revealed in the slideshows: the detailed graph paper notebooks and piles of photographs used in the production of Spacy, the cube-shaped device onto which photographs were mounted for the shooting of Box (1982), the wooden pivot for mounting the camera used in Grim (1984), the torn handheld photographs from Wall (1987), the carefully plotted map from Devil's Circuit (1988), detailed construction plans from Zone (1995), as well as photographs of the handmade masks designed for A Silent Day (2002). We are even given a glimpse of Ito's boyhood passion for manga with photographs of Taisen, a manga that he drew himself.
Instead of a booklet, Image Forum has set up web pages in Japanese and English providing extensive additional information including bibliographical information, a complete filmography with descriptions (many by Ito himself), and essays by film scholar and critic Norio Nishijima (Tama Art University) and fellow experimental filmmaker Nobuhiro Kawanaka. This DVD set is a must have for fans of experimental film: the image quality is second only to seeing the films projected in their original 16mm format and their education value is priceless. Takashi Ito is currently a professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design and also teaches at Image Forum.