Jesse’s book review, Labyrinth of Dreams by Sogo Ishii
This time Jesse brings us a book from a movie from the world of Japanese cinema. A very interesting adaptation of a movie into a photobook. Come and check it out.

I constantly try to blend the mediums of cinema and photography, both the moving and the still. I imagine there would have to be numerous sort books like this yet incidentally this is the only one I have come across. Labyrinth of Dreams was an independent Japanese film made in 1997 by Sogo Ishii. It was slow-paced thriller whose aesthetics involved this dark dreamy atmosphere that relates to the mystery in the film. Ishii then interpreted the film photographically and presented here is the resulting photo book. This was given to me by a friend who in turn found it at a Book-Off for about 5 USD.


With that said this book is amazing! Shot primarily in black and white there are some color shots as well. The most obvious aesthetic conclusion to draw from this book is how cinematic it is. Great Japanese films can be described as atmospheric and it does spill into Japanese photo books, most notably in Fukase’s Solitude of the Raven. So to say this book is atmospheric is not only easy but a bit obvious. Instead what works is how purely photographic it is in Ishii’s mastery of the medium. Taking place in the mountains the first photo is of the actor in a suit standing the middle of the forest. Because of the lighting and subsequent detail the image is entirely flat. What Wataru Watanabe did with the book I reviewed Drawing a Line, Ishii encapsulates in the very first shot. There is a photo of the two actors emerging from a tunnel, a tricky shot because of the extremes in light and shadow yet what he does is intentionally overexposes just the faces stripping any detail and in doing so reducing the photo to an allegorical one of two faceless nondescript figures emerging from the darkness.


Slow shutter speeds are used in a few of the photos giving us a strange sense of the movement that comes off mysterious that helps to build the narrative. One juxtaposition that comes off interesting is a man in all black lying across train tracks with a hat over his face. The image is already mysterious yet through editing he decided to repeat the same image twice on both pages offering us a sort of mirage of each other. All images are perfectly composed using line and form when available achieving perfect effects. It no coincidence the title page of the book is: Behind the Mirage of Labyrinth of Dreams. A mirage is defined as a) an optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions or b) something that appears real or possible but is not. The above perfectly reflect this.


Furthering the above ideas, silhouettes are heavily utilized. From a couple overlooking looking a beach horizon to men in a smoke-filled room. The effect this gives is similar to the faceless couple emerging from the tunnel in that by stripping any identifiable characteristics, he forces us to draw our conclusions through the atmosphere. Toward the end of the book there are the more common still images that you typically see of photos taken while filming that usually has the movie camera in the foreground pointed at the actors. Yet, here these photos only come about at the end as if I challenging what we have already seen before by reminding us that these are indeed based on a film. Many of the color photographs come at the end as well. Black and white photography by its very nature possesses an ability that can abstract identifiable subjects simply by stripping color which further challenges the photos we have seen as a mirage for what the movie actually is.


It is really a curious book more than anything. For a project that would by most standards be performed as an afterthought to the film, in respect to the medium it is as powerful as the film itself. I mean there really isn’t a single bad photo in the book. There is even a page spread without any images at all, instead it is just blank black pages, that really just contribute to the overall bleak mood of the book as well as the movie.  In fact even the person who gave it to me said he liked the book more than the film but wanted me to have because it was more indicative of my taste. I imagine this book would be pretty difficult to find, but once found not to expensive because by most it would just be viewed as still images from a movie nobody saw anyway. It had an original price tag of 24 USD.  I intentionally overloaded Bellamy with images from the book since even a Google search won’t bring up these images. Enjoy.



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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Thank for sharing this one Jesse. A very nice little find. I love the use of contrasting light. I shall have to borrow this one from you.