Jesse’s Book Review – SAN-KAKU by IWAKI FUMIO

This one here I found on previous visual interviewee Mario Fail‘s shelf. I guess for any of the reasons, the cover image of the photographer’s wife reminded me of an Ozu Yasujiro film still. Shot at eye level as if sitting on a tatami mat, his wife face stares back at us and like an Ozu character carries with her expression carries neither joy or sadness…and there was that mysterious empty triangle on the upper right corner. I think of three I borrowed this will be the most fun to write about in the photographer’s debut photo book published by AKAAKA.

Iwaki photographed his wife for a period of over 6 years in making San-kaku (Japanese for triangle). This carries on the Japanese (or any country really, just they have a lot of notably works) tradition of making one’s wife their primary photo subject. A lot like Fukase, and in simply just observing the photographs, it really does seem as if it is the only way he can react with her. He laments, “I might have been happier if I could have related to my wife straight-forwardly, without taking photographs at all. But that wasn’t an option.”

The very second photograph then feels eerily similar to an Araki photo from “A Sentimental Journey”  of his wife in fetal position in the boat with the lines of the tatami leading our eye through the image in a similar manner. Certainly dissimilar from the meaning of the latter’s inevitable death with the boat, Iwaki’s wife’s encasement is to that of a domesticated life…which exemplifies the publisher’s quote, “ The same person, photographed again and again in the same room. Picture after picture of clean, straightforward yet somewhat strange portraits, and yet it is impossible to trace our story in them. A triangle suspended in mid-air.”

It then naturally feels quite Japanese with this focus upon repetition of the everyday. From her attire on gives a nuanced indication of the seasons and cycles we go through in life. A photo observing her putting on sandals suggests a summer excursion, while the jacket and layering she wears suggests a cold winter walk to the supermarket. Simple but effective.

Their overcrowded apartment, feels like the run of the mill subsidized housing apartments again similar to Fukase’s. The difference is in Iwaki’s restriction he puts on himself only photographing from inside the house. Fukase’s memorable set from that series was from the balcony photographing his wife from the balcony looking down. This limited scope ironically compliments the atmosphere of the book, making it work for me while differentiation from this tradition of a photo book about one’s wife.

Perhaps the most Japanese thing about it, is in its obvious infliction of “mono no aware”, a Japanese idiom for a resonated sadness toward the transience of things. Never once do I get a feeling of love, even in the nude…not only love, but any real feeling at all. She seems to just be resigned to it all, and Iawaki is just there to capture it. Reducing it all to food, sleep, laundry, etc is quite an indictment to make on one’s marriage life and yet you get the sense looking at the image that he really wasn’t trying for sadness…it just is what it is. With that said, I’d much rather have been in Araki’s relationship that always seemed more whimsical than the neo-realiasm of Iwaki’s.

A very beautiful book for what it isn’t. Will definitely seek a copy of it myself to look at if I ever consider marriage lol. All jokes aside, the book really works for someone who has lived here for 16 years as it really captures the harsh beauty of everyday repetition. Published in 2018 it features 144 photographs with the afterwards in both English and Japanese. It can be had for 30$ here.


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