Jesse’s Book Review – While Leaves Are Falling… By Takahiro Kaneyama

There was a beautiful 1912 silent film directed by Alice Guy-Blache titled, “Falling Leaves” in which a younger sister over hears the doctor comment that her ailing older sister wouldn’t make it after the leaves had fallen. That is she wouldn’t live past autumn, so upon hearing this the sister would go out everyday and catch the leaves and tie them back to the tree in a futile effort to save her sister…

Photographer Takahiro Kaneyama’s photo book, “When Leave are Falling…” evokes a similar futility to me in photographing his ailing schizophrenic mother (and two aunts). The photos were initially taken to prove to his mother who she was, but as you turn the page the futility becomes evident as the work becomes more about acceptance. The film being that of Hollywood, sees the doctor coming right at the end of fall with a serum…the book here however, ends simply with a cherry blossom tree signaling nature’s restart with a coda shot of his mom and two aunts when she was still healthy.

At its heart the book is a family portrait often of the mom, two aunts, their dog, and the surrounding neighborhood that he often shoots to a symbolic effect. Like the little girl in the silent film there is an early earnestness to the book before giving away to a graceful acceptance. Most notably we see this directly in his mother’s gaze that slowly loses life as her frailty becomes more evident.

But it is the gaze that becomes more and more disassociated with life that comes through as she looks at us (that is the camera and thus her son) with an unfamiliarity that makes it so hard for those who’s loved ones are schizophrenic. It must have been difficult as often at times he simply just shoots her with her back turned. It becomes a very remarkable thing to not then hide this, even emphasizing it by including much earlier photos of his mother when she was healthy.

The in between photos of the neighborhood are quite special. Aside from the appropriate season/book ending shot of cherry blossoms, there is first a summer photos of trees covered in black tarp serving as a forbiddance. Decaying work sites and cloud cover further this notion albeit subtly of his mother’s decaying mentality capacities.

However throughout and typically a subtle theme in most mediums for Japanese artists… is a preoccupation with the seasons. We see summer, we see winter, we see fall, and we end in spring with the aforementioned shot of cherry blossoms. Life is a cycle and for such a project it gives it its completeness. This is aided with an abundance of calendars and clocks throughout the book.

It is however mostly the shots of the mother or three in tandem that make up the book. Between the tragedy he manages to inject some humor conjuring that notion of smiles and cries. I personally enjoyed halfway through the book where we see a shot of the apartment from the outside revealing to us that they live above a real estate agent with the aunt and dogs in one window and the mother in the other alone.

He finishes the book appropriately with only his own afterword, and perhaps the following quote summing it all best.

“I used to think that memories would gradually fade with the passage o time, but even 25 years after my mother’s hospitalization, I often find myself comparing my mother today with the one in my memories. Looking back now, one of the main reasons I moved to New York was because I couldn’t face the fact that my mother had become schizophrenic. However, soon I learned that physical distance would ever equal emotional distance; I had a hard time separating myself from my thoughts and emotions about my mother’s mental illness, whether I was in New York or Tokyo.

The book is still attainable. If you order from Shashasha in the next two days there is a summer sale going on here.  Just a really powerful work! ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

For other book reviews click here.
-JF