Saturday, 24 November 2012

Tales of Tono


Perhaps it's something about this time of year that sets my reading interests wandering away from Japanese Literature, it's hard to fathom the real reason for this, I think I remember it happening to me around about the same time last year, here's a list of non-Japanese authors that I've read recently -

Sven Lindqvist - The Myth of Wu Tao-Tzu
W.G Sebald - After Nature
Gustave Flaubert - November
Andre Breton - Nadja
J.K Huysmans - Against Nature
Girogio de Chirico - Hebdomeros
Julian Green - Paris
Edouard Leve - Autoportrait
Denis Johnson - Train Dreams
Villiers de L'Isle Adam - Cruel Tales (ongoing)
Alejandro Zambra - Bonsai
Georges Rodenbach - Bruges la Morte

There's little resemblance to the list that I thought I was going to read, but I'd still like to read the titles from my previous list, among books that I'm hoping to reach over the next few months - The Red Laugh by Leonid Andreyev, The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray by Jorge Amado, Lesabendio by Paul Scheerbart, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and The Republic of Wine by Mo Yan, but chances are I'll end up reading only a fraction of these and discover a whole crop of other titles that I want to read. After enjoying Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, Ways of Going Home is a book I'm looking forward to in January.

Whilst reading my way through some of the above a book that I've been picking up in between and returning to is Tales of Tono recently published by Tate Publishing, the Tate Modern, in London has an ongoing exhibition of Moriyama and Klein and have also published a career spanning book of Moriyama, which contains some newly translated texts, but I thought I'd go for Tales of Tono, a book originally published in Japan nearly forty years ago. The photographs are accompanied by essays by Moriyama, (translated by Lena Fritsch who also contributes an essay, Simon Baker also contributes an informative essay), in which he explains his reasons for choosing Tōno, situated in Iwate Prefecture, and in the first essay Moriyama mentions two authors connected with Tōno, the folklorist Kunio Yanagita, whose book Tono Monogatari/The Legends of Tono is available in an anniversary edition, translated by Ronald. A Morse, published by Lexington Books, the other author Moriyama mentions who has connections with Tōno is poet and short story writer Miyazawa Kenji. Moriyama talks of Tōno being his imagined furusato, (hometown), and his fascination of maps, looking through the photographs they begin to take on a meditation on topography, representative of a certain time and place, when I look at these pictures the feeling that I'm looking at a scene which has been paused in the middle of a film and that at any moment a slow movement will begin, and the imagined film will spring back into momentum, this sensation always occurs to me when I look at photographs. The photographs are largely presented in black and white, with very few in colour, they capture an almost ethereal Tōno, a night time matsuri festival caught in flash light, the fabric designs of washing hung out takes up almost the whole of a frame, a hut of stored logs appear as a series of white circles of differing sizes in the blackness. Shop fronts and vending machines take on a starkness that remains undetected in the world of colour, but in the black and white, the substance of dark and light begin to become reversed, is it night time or day time?, sunlight or moonlight?.

Describing in the next essay his departure for Tōno, his enthusiasm for his project is infectious to read, travelling on a diesel train on the Kamaishi Line, his anticipation in seeing the famous landmarks mentioned in the folk stories collected by Yanagita, Mt. Hayachine and Mt. Rokkoshi and the Sarugaishi River, the fact that the locals he asks are ignorant of these places provoke a series of reflections for Moriyama. Mentioning the inclusion of a portrait of himself in the book I began to contemplate on the sequencing of the photographs as they appear in the book with how they corresponded with the route Moriyama travelled as he explored Tōno. Moriyama describes his determination to photograph everything that takes up his field of vision, his guest room, landscapes, cemeteries, the streets and fields, portraits of the people, the gravel of the roads. He describes his longing to meet kappa, oshira sama and zashiki warashi, the spirits of children who if seen are portents of good fortune, all of which figure in the Tono monogatari. A particular portrait that strikes me is of a young person, I can't ascertain the gender, the picture is grainy like a negative, the details of the eyes are hidden in shadow, it could sound a slight cliche to describe the photograph as haunting, but for me the image has a searing quality to it, and I've found myself returning to it again and again. Among the final essays through autobiographical sketches Moriyama makes parallels with photography and folklore, to read of his descriptions of photography as a form of narration provokes the viewer to examine and re-examine the photographs. Moriyama describes his struggle with imagined places with that of real places. Tales of Tono is a remarkable book for different reasons, for the photographs and also for the translated essays that give us a glimpse into the process of a unique photographer.

William Klein and Daido Moriyama is on at the Tate until 20.01.2013  



Tony said...

Don't worry - you'll ahve plenty of incentive to get back to J-Lit in January :)

me. said...

Looking forward to it!