June 19, 2017

Japanese experimental filmmaker Takashi Makino, born in 1978 in Tokyo, has made 35 films in his 20-year career. He was one of the special guests in the Spotlight section of the 14th edition of Vienna Shorts. Nisimazine met the director between the screening of some of his short films and the presentation of his long-term live project. Space Noise 3D.

As we were able to see through the examples Eve (2002), Generator (2011), Ghost of OT301 (2014) and On Generation and Corruption (2017), his films are unique visual undertakings. Although he usually works with solid images as bases, these become a fuzzy background after he adds up to 300 layers of additional visual material. Further enhanced with originally composed soundtracks, the films allow the audience to be actively involved in the repercussion of the works.

With the exception of Ghost of OT301, actually a test film, where he used also excerpts from an old Polish film, he usually shoots all the images himself. In addition to the fact that he films almost exclusively in Tokyo, his work has another striking characteristic. He tends to combine footage of culture, like cityscapes and wire fences, with layers of nature, for example water in different states of the matter.

“The reason why I use natural elements is because of shape and contrast,” Makino expains. “Normally when I make an image, I start from some complex shapes to create a very complex deep image and I need a very complex contrast. […] And water is the best material for me. If I shoot buildings, walls, people, the contrast is too easy.“

Ghost of OT301 ©Makino Takashi

Makino learned the trade while studying at the Nihon University College of Art, where he majored in Cinematography, but also at the Quay Brothers London-based studio, where he broadened his knowledge about filmmaking.

“I had a strong interest for their way of the collaboration of image and sound,” recalls Makino. “The music expands the images and imagination. There are no limitations, it’s not just background music. Also, I had an interest in the Quay Brothers’ use of lighting. It looks very, very natural and dark.“

Although he sometimes generates the music for his films himself, Makino rather likes to commission somebody to do this work for him. After a long search for suitable musicians who also understand films, he found a regular collaborator in multi-instrumentalist Jim O´Rourke, a former assistant of Tony Conrad, a so intricate artist that in order to get a glimpse into his oeuvre one should watch Tyler Hubby´s documentary Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present (2016). Makino and O’Rourke have so far made eight films together.

As his films became increasingly complex, Makino started changing the camera gear he used. Until 2004 he shot only on 16mm and Super 8mm films, later he combined analogue and digital formats, and for his last film he decided to use only digital material. The switch was purely pragmatic. Although the limitations of analogue film in his opinion may have a positive effect on the creativity, digitally produced imagery simply offers more possibilities for independent filmmakers like him.

Eve ©Makino Takashi

While he started his career with the raw aesthetics of the monochrome double exposure film Eve, he later continually developed his visual expressiveness up to the point of On Generation and Corruption, his most vivid film. By not reducing colour from the footage, he achieved an almost impressionistic film, reminiscent of the paintings of Jackson Pollock or Claude Monet. As he explains, this was not intentional, and the bright, colourful result was not noticable until he put the layers together in the editing room. The film was actually inspired by something else.

“When I was in Athens two years ago, after I showed my films, a woman came to me and she talked about this Aristotle‘s treatise On Generation and Corruption. I read it and it was really very interesting. […] He wrote about where life comes from and where it goes. […] It was not based on science, he was more depending on his own imagination, thinking and observing the nature. I liked that book very much. In the film, I tried to make a kind of a cycle of life. Something happens with […] flashes of light, […] grows up and then the light comes again and stops everything.”

On Generation and Corruption ©Makino Takashi

Whether taking his inspiration from ancient philosophers, depth psychology, where he favours Carl Gustav Jung, or elsewhere, the main goal of his filmmaking is to allow the audience to open up their imagination. It is not important if they are able to decode the images beneath the layers. Makino strives for the freedom of the audience to connect the offered images with their individual memories in order to create their own narratives. Hence every viewer sees his own personal film. This is what Makino perceives as the biggest purpose of making films.

While his films have earned him several accolades from film festivals around the world, most notably the Tiger Award for the best short film at Rotterdam (with Generator), and twice at the 25FPS International Experimental Film and Video Festival in Zagreb (with Still in Cosmos in 2009 and Emaki/Light in 2011), he successively relocated a part of his activities into live performances.

“I thought about not only making a fixed cinema but was also thinking about the relationship between screen and the image and the film experience itself, I had an interest in the physicality of the cinema,” Makino says. “When I used analogue films, I felt the physicality of the images, because I could touch them. When I started using digital, it was very difficult, completely different, because it is just data. […] I couldn’t feel any physicality. So I thought about how to feel the imagination, the films.”

This is why he decided to make Space Noise 3D. Its visual basics are images from one 16mm film and one digital source that are intertwined into a composite which is continually re-edited so that each performance presents a unique film. Due to the different layers, the audience can recognize the differences between an analogue and a digital image. Additionally, the musical background changes every time as Makino is very interested in musical manipulations of images. This spontaneity results in an experiment that can sometimes be very noisy and complex and on other occasions very melodic and deep. The pure randomness of these events is further enhanced by the use of special glasses that enable the Pulfrich effect, a percept wherein lateral motion of an object in the field of view is interpreted as depth of field. One side of the glasses is similar to sunglasses, the other one is empty. The audience is encouraged to choose how they will witness the screening, but every decision will facilitate different movements on the screen.

Excerpt from Space Noise 3D show at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema in 2014

After 30 appearances in Japan, Europe and USA, the evening in Vienna´s bar rhiz might as well have been also the last one for this project. According to Makino, the imagery is now nearly too complex to edit it further. So he will make another leap forward and move from experiments with two projectors to an experiment with three projectors on one screen, where every image has a different length and stays in loops so the image keeps changing. The project, titled Endless Cinema, had its world premiere in Hong Kong, last December and will have its Eur0pean premiere end of June at the Documenta 14 in Athens.

Miha Veinger