Jesse’s book review, Tokyo X by Shunji Okura
This bis a book I was hoping that Jesse would get the chance to review as I have thought about buying this. Now I think I will. Check it out.
George Orwell’s ideas for his more popular novels were always good, yet I felt his writing was third rate at best…especially in the context of other writers at the time. Rather the easily understood allegorical Animal Farm or the over done utopian future of 1984 they were lacking. His value thus would be for one to expand on his ideas and take them further…certainly something you wouldn’t say of a James Joyce, Albert Camus, or Nikos Kazantakis of the time.
Shunji Okura’s Tokyo X begins with curious thesis of: has the world become the oppressive fanatical future that Orwell predicted in the actual year of 1984…set in Tokyo. The result is a body of work beginning from 88′ to 2000 (mostly the last three years) that through the camera looks at everyday life as a highly regimented electronically controlled society or as Orwell had written. Mind you these are the artist’s own words as the results for me varied.
First, a little camera geek info! All of it was shot on Kodak Tri-X D76. Four brands of cameras were used over the years: Leica (M2), Canon, Pentax, and Minolta including the CLE. Lenses all ranged from 28-400mm which I think it was in the Ikko Narahara review I stated the camera information because A) it was given in the book and B) it related to the aesthetic qualities of the preceding paragraph. Here his use of lenses was pretty straightforward when compared to Narahara…so guess the point here is strictly because of reason A.
Moving on, through the flow of the book you pretty much get the in and outs of Tokyo focusing on the various subcultures. Some of these nowadays would be considered serious cliches as he shoots the Shibuya scramble, Harajuku girls, Yoyogi 50s dancers (sure there is a proper name for them but meh), and Shinjuku night life with a plethora of salarymen in between. There is even a homeless guy walking across a Louis Vuitton sign. Yet the sheer content and witty enough juxtapositions make it. The high points for me are in his photos that actual relate to his Orwellian thesis in shooting surveillance cameras and people’s interaction with electronics. These are sprinkled about the book enough to justify his thesis.
All of this equates to a focus on the overriding weirdness of Japan. When a foreigner comes here this is often what they shoot resulting in cliches. There is a distance in these photos and overall they don’t feel at all Japanese. The first photos in the book are of the American navel and air force bases followed by aerial shots of Tokyo that land us in the middle of Shibuya. This is a sequence of any non Japanese visiting Japan. I can literally turn the page/ scroll through any foreigners work here and say now they discovered Shibuya and look they must of stumbled into Harajuku and Yoyogi is near, etc. It is so curious that in exploring Tokyo in the mindset of uncovering an Orwellian future the result is literally what a foreigner would see and shoot if they were visiting Tokyo themselves. Then as foreigner looking at these and labeling them cliches kind of adds to the paradoxical nature of this book.
One really good sequence of photos that does intelligently explore his thesis can be seen below. There are several images of TV screens that show images as varied as John Wayne (True Grit) and both foreign and Japanese porn to Johnny Bravo and golf. On the adjacent page there is what one can assume a photo of a window front that features plastic eyeballs looking at the TVs screenshot with red lips underneath. Aesthetically they fit what he is going for, but more meaningfully says a lot more. All of these are distractions that speak to the nature of an electronically controlled society Orwell predicted. It gets me that more inquisitive photos such as these weren’t opted for in place of the more irrelevant cliched photos. Reducing the number of photos would of been ideal but then for a buyer perhaps quantity is ideal.
This all is quite outside his art. For the most part his style primarily deals with nude women. I am not too familiar with the extent of his other work outside of what is presented here and his nude work, but an artist always gets points with me for stretching oneself. This book can be purchased fairly easily for under 50 USD on the net.
Thanks for another well composed and thoughtful review, Jesse. I really love reading these, they are so well written.
Jesse is always looking for new books to review, so if you want you can send him a book that you would like to have reviewed. I am sure Jesse isn’t going to complain at getting new books.
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.
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