Jesse’s Book Review – Letters to N by Daido Moriyama

Borrowed this from former visual interviewee Michael Tan after a trip to the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. Coming out in 2021 the book is a personal visual letter from Moriyama to his friend the late Takuma Nakahira (can see my review on his most known photo book here).

The latter of whom is receiving some what of a re-emergence here in Tokyo with his retrospective that just ended at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT). This book is perhaps more relevant as a result now than it was three years ago.

Like all of Moriyama’s twilight work, the book is shot entirely in digital. This change I recall was a bit of big deal when he first did it entering the 2010s alternating between Ricoh and Nikon point and shoots leaving behind the Ricoh GR1 series film cameras he helped popularized. Here is a fun Camera Geekery on the camera by Tokyo based photographer Ben Beech.

But the book itself! As a letter to his late friend, he shot it all in the Shonan area located just south of Tokyo. Some of Japan’s greatest literary and cinematic figures also lived and created in this area. For Moriyama this book is also a revisitation of his previous work exactly 30 years prior when Nakahira infamously suffered acute alcohol poisoning and went into a coma suffering substantial memory loss when he came out of it. A lot of it was to help Nakahira remember, so it is full circle here with Moriyama shooting his nostalgia of it all.

At the time Moriyama published a series of essays titled “Letters to Takuma Nakahira” detailing their off and on relationship. The book then includes a bilingual (Japanese/English) afterword from Moriyama detailing yet another series of letters he wrote in 1988 and the process of making the book here.

The photos are all in black and white featuring Moriyama’s classic loose editing and moody images of the everyday. After moving from Ikebukuro to the area for reasons of health (he is 85 years old), he walked daily specifically in the areas of Kamakura, Zushi, and Hayama for this book. An impressive feat in itself as summers here are pretty brutal.

Extremely subtle, but I do like the cinematic references. One thing that doesn’t get as much attention about these Provoke photographers was their love for the medium. Recall in particular it was Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave for the more avant-garde minded members represented respectively by Moriyama and Nakahira.

Was cool to see Cinema Amigo a local cinephile theater converted from a private house and the poster for the Hara Setsuko/ Yamaguchi Yoshiko exhibit they had the film museum in Kamakura. Actually attended that show testing prototypes of the ongoing and uphill battle of getting Fugu film produced. But with Provoke in general, the images always conjured the Japanese cinema of the time in the Japanese New Wave going into the avant-garde minded films most notably produced by ATG going into the 70s and beyond.

With that the book can be had for under 30 USD from most retailers. A great value for the 128 images that are included in this compact 225 × 152 mm size soft cover book. The afterword was quite good in its personal and retrospective nature. It perhaps serve as a good impetus into Nakahira who should come of more prevalence this decade with hopefully some reprints on the horizon due to what was only his second retrospective ever coming over 20 years apart.

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For other book reviews click here.
-JF