Jesse’s book review, A sentimental Journey by Araki
This is one that I hoped Jesse would do. Probably one of the most well known of Araki’s books, this one has been reviewed many times, but Jesse covers it with his own thoughtful style.
As the saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words. Although true, these words consist only of nouns and adjectives and to make a complete story let alone a sentence verbs and such would be needed in addition to structuring. So as the medium goes stories usual never come off with much success. Which bring us to Araki’s Sentimental Journey that actually defies the medium’s limitations in a rare instance to tell us story, or rather take us on a journey. Yet really there is nothing left to say about A Sentimental Journey. I remember right after my first review for JCH telling a friend I really wanted to review this book and he explained how tough it would be as it has been overdone. I guess it is the film equivalent of writing a review on Citizen Kane. Not having actually read a review for A Sentimental Journey, I think this could work.
A Sentimental Journey is a documentation of his wedding and honeymoon with his wife Yoko. While often sold as one, A Winter Journey is the title of the book that documents his wife’s last days (for this review I will just call it A Sentimental Journey). Getting right into it, the whole series works entirely because of its honesty. Diana Airbus once said that, “a photograph of two people in bed in shocking because a photograph is private, where as a movie showing two people in bed is not shocking because a movie is public.” For Araki this comes perfectly into play, because with A Sentimental Journey he doesn’t leave out a single detail and we see the entire private event as it is. When they have sex…we see it…and when they wake up in the morning…we see it. On first look it isn’t necessarily even beautiful, shots are rushed, there is not a lot of attention to compositions, a lot of overexposure/underexposure, but after going through the book; it’s entirely beautiful because of its straightforward honesty and subsequent lasting effect.
Bridging the gap between the optimism of first getting married and Yoko’s death are foreboding photographs of her death that at the time they were shot were entirely unassuming. The most obvious instance of this is the famous photo of his wife asleep in a boat during their honeymoon. In the photo she asleep in fetal position symbolizing birth, yet the context insinuates death. The fact that she is on a boat relatively of the same make that is used to send off (in certain cultures) the dead to the next life supports this insinuation. Also, during the honeymoon he snaps, a grave juxtaposed with a photo of a butterfly. A butterfly’s life cycle of metamorphosis when juxtaposed against a grave is highly suggestive. Not to mention the semi nude photos of her either lying prone in an empty field or slumped in a chair…
This all leads us to A Winter Journey. Japanese culture from haikyo and their festivals, to their literature and film, carry a preoccupation with the seasons and what they symbolize. Yoko dying in winter is entirely symbolic and another instance of an unassuming but significant occurrence in A Sentimental Journey. Araki captures this perfectly with photos of day old snow in a gutter, dead tree outlines, and this wooden sign of a woman and her cat that is shot multiple times facing inclement weather (the wooden sign is significant because a subject of a lot of the photos was their cat). This all builds up the narrative and mystic of the book. And I as I recall saying for another book review, these are all novelistic elements that writers use to tell stories…yet Araki is able to do it perfectly with pictures alone.
Admittedly, I bought this book a bit pretentiously. I was offered a chance to attend a private exhibition that Araki occasionally holds for friends and such. I hadn’t a single Araki book at the time except for Naked Faces: The Works of Nobuyoshi Araki-1 (the red book in the series that has a color and a number and theme lol… I got it from Book-Off for 5 USD). I went to my favorite book shop in Tokyo, So Books and asked the owner Ikuo San that if he had my chance and my limited funds which book would he try to get signed and he recommended A Sentimental Journey. I didn’t even know the story behind it except from what I had seen in whatever volume of the great documentary series called Contacts that he was in. I haven’t met too many famous people in my life, but being in Tokyo I am friends with a lot of semi famous or people who I feel will be famous and have found they all have certain characteristics. The main one being mix of charisma and contradictory complexity. Araki even as he is now in failing health is the entire focus of whatever room he is in. When he laughs everyone does and when he speaks everyone is silent. Yet, he is a complex character, for instance at the gallery while making a grand sweeping gesture while talking, knocked over a little kid and didn’t even notice. Further proof of this came after I was given a quick introduction, stuttered through my bad Japanese and asked him to sign my book. He flipped through it making some comments and signed it. He took a serious tone after drawing his face and the year, because he added tears and said it is because he stills cries and thoughtfully took a moment to reflect. I thanked him and bowed, and before I could take a step back he had the room laughing again because of some completely unrelated out of context joke. I nervously laughed after having genuinely felt sorry a split second ago and could do nothing but go back for the free wine. A month or so ago I was talking with another photographer who got a chance to go to the same private exhibition and after feeling special about telling him my story, he told me Araki did the same exact thing for his copy of A Sentimental Journey tears and all. He really is a complex character.
Araki has to be the most published Japanese photographer. His books are dimes a dozen and they all vary. An original edition of A Sentimental Journey is the price of a digital Leica M. However the great reissued editions can be had for around 40 dollars. It really should be a stable in any photo book library because of its honesty and storytelling.
Jesse Freeman is a friend, photographer and movie buff. He has a great knowledge of photography books and classic cinema. He can also be relied upon for decent music recommendations.
You can more of his work and passions at the following places:
This is one of those books that slips under the radar, yet makes for an interesting and pleasant read. I shall be sure to scour the shelves of my local Book Off to see if I can find something like this. Thanks Jesse.