Keep on Walking, Keep on Relating: Masao Adachi and Landscape Theory Today
An essay, which I wrote at ten or so for the anniversary brochure of my hometown, starts with a line expressing the abstract sense of anxiety that I was receiving from the landscape of endless empty plots for new housings. Where I lived then was a suburban residential area in a southern town on a southern island in Japan, development of which started in the 1970s, and completed in 1988 with 2800 housings on 1.5 million square meters land. There was a new elementary school and a grocery store. Fathers worked in either public sectors or a nearby factory of a large electronic corporation, and mothers in a large part were housewives. Brand-new houses in the area were designed individually within a range of selective multiplicities, and buildings, both old and new, of a typical suburban town with weak economic base appeared to be somewhat cheap and standardized.
Deep green trees, sharp sunshine, asphalt roads, tunnels, rice fields, reservoirs, tiled roofs, playgrounds, endless housing lots, empty fields, empty parking lots, empty parks, empty streets… Landscape in which development and destruction happens simultaneously.
A kind of oppressive pressure and anxiety within these landscapes certainly have its root in a type of power-relations, which pushed such a way of development, as described by Masao Adachi, Masao Matsuda and others in their film “A.K.A Serial Killer (Ryakusho Renzoku Shasatsu-ma)” created in 1969. The landscape in which I grew up was a result of nationwide development of suburb to meet increasing demands of houses for a growing middle class population. A typical appearance of the small town of the 80s was also linked to a condition of the countryside, which faced socio-economic changes from a small-scale countryside community to a one of many hubs within expanding networks of transportation system.
“A.K.A Serial Killer” is a documentary-like film, which followed the path of Norio Nagayama, a then-nineteen-year-old boy who was called “serial killer” by the media. Nagayama was born in Hokkaido as a seventh child of a big family, and grew up in extreme poverty. At fifteen, he moved to Tokyo to find a job as a result of the mass employment policy of the time. Between 1965 and 1968, he constantly changed his job, and lived in several places. With a gun he stole from the American Base, he killed four people in four cities. Partly because Nagayama was still a minor when he was arrested, the case obtained an enormous public attention. The media sought to articulate the reasons why a young boy with no serious criminal records committed such atrocities. Being tired of media-oriented dramatic stories of Nagayama, Adachi took his camera to simply see what Nagayama might have seen. Such an attempt ultimately captured urban landscapes that were rapidly standardized by nationwide development projects led by economic growth. Every place the camera captured, appeared to be the same to Adachi; same shops, same streets, same types of people…
An essential anonymousness of the urban landscape indicated a certain socio-economic direction of the state power and people, such as Nagayama, who were alienated from a changing society. “Nowhere to belong, and nowhere to stay,” as Adachi says, the landscape with no place to be in was what essentially moved Nagayama to trigger, and was the true target of Nagayama . Adachi’s “A.K.A Serial Killer” lit a fire on the heated debate over the social and political nature of the landscape, what urban landscapes represent, and how individuals are subjectified from her/his surrounding environment.
After completing “A.K.A serial killer” and a few other works, Adachi abruptly abandoned filmmaking and departed for Lebanon in 1974 to join the Japanese United Army for supporting the Palestinian resistance. Adachi was arrested in 1997, and it was in 2007, Adachi finally returned to film after serving the jail terms both in Lebanon and Japan. The word “landscape” is again repeatedly used when Adachi talks about this 2007 film “Prisoner/Terrorist (Yuheisha – Terorisuto).” For instance, in an interview with Philippe Grandrieux who took a documentary of Adachi entitled as “It May Be That Beauty Has Strengthened Our Resolve,” Adachi mentions the function of landscape for the main character of the film. The title of the Grandrieux’s work is taken from a word of this main character, M when he recalls in prison the very moment he decided to conduct a terrorist attack. “I wanted to show that a certain feeling of attachment to the landscape could move a person to decide something,” Adachi explains the intention of M’s monologue. Such a feeling is neither political, nor ideological. Furthermore, the attachment to the landscape is not even graspable though it is something that cannot be explained otherwise .
Landscapes described in “A.K.A Serial Killer” and “Prisoner/Terrorist” are the same as they are both politically structured. However, there is a certain difference in the attitude of Nagayama and M; that is, how they see and face the landscape in front of him. In these different modes of relating to the landscape, we might find a hint to propose an additional discussion to the landscape theory of the 60s.
Before his complete settlement in Lebanon in 1974, Adachi visited the country with Koji Wakamatsu to create a film “Red Army/PLFP: Declaration of World War (Sekigun-P.F.L.P: Sekai Senso Sengen)” in 1971. Adachi calls this film a “news film” that functions as a radical propaganda newsreel to support the Palestinian resistance. With interviews of freedom fighters and their resistance camps, landscape takes an important role in the film. Similar to “A.K.A Serial Killer,” the camera simply captures the landscape, which the freedom fighters see everyday. However, while the landscape in “A.K.A Serial Killer” gives somewhat dark and oppressive feeling to the audience, the one in “Red Army/PLFP” has surprisingly idyllic and even joyful although the political constraint on people are obviously much harder in the latter. Different impression of the landscape in two films might be derived from audience’s familiarity with these places. However, there seems to be something more. According to Adachi, what differentiates the two films is the perspective of the camera. While “A.K.A Serial Killer” sought to show how the landscape appears to people, “Red Army/PLFP” sought to record the landscape from the perspective of freedom fighters, the subject of the film. “Therefore, if the landscape in ‘Red Army/PLFP’ looks idyllic, the freedom fighters might be receiving their landscape in that manner.”
“A.K.A Serial Killer” captures the landscape as a document without specifying the perspective of the subject within the film. “Red Army/PLFP” records the landscape as news with a specific perspective of the freedom fighters. And “Prisoner/Terrorist,” a narrative based on Kozo Okamoto, a member of the Japanese United Army who was imprisoned in Israel for thirteen years, shows a personal aspect of the landscape.
In “A.K.A Serial Killer,” although the camera follows what Nagayama might have seen, Nagayama himself remains invisible in the film. Due to this invisibility of the subject, the film succeeded to crystalize the fundamental structure of “landscape = power” in modern society more vividly than any other film of the time. As Adachi points out, four victims of the case might be appeared as a mere landscape to Nagayama who was completely shut out from the vast landscape in front of him . Nagayama had no option other than firing to and destroy the existing landscape to find a possible landscape to which he can belong.
Compared to Nagayama, the landscape for M is not a mere representation of the power, but is rather personal and is closely tied to his life and thoughts. In other words, M has own landscape. It might be similar, though the styles of the films are completely different, to the landscape of freedom fighters in “Red Army/PFLP.” Despite the severe reality of the life, the landscape as long as it is in her/his hand appears different, and works different. Of course, if we correctly understand the main theme of the landscape theory of the 60s, such positive aspect of the landscape is also formed within socio-economic power relations, and thus the subject within it cannot be completely free from the existing structure. Our life, our perspective, and our thoughts formed in politically shaped landscape are inevitable penetrated by the intention of power. We cannot simple cerebrate our place in the landscape.
However, while the landscape is formed by the power, there certainly are chaotic details in the landscape, which for its triviality or its dynamism slip from the fine networks of power. These details can be described as subtle traces of individual acts of living, which cannot be fully customized.
Unmatching walls of barracks, randomly loaded square-shaped tin cans, awkward slogans, graffiti, hole on the wall, cracks in asphalt, a scar of the finger, flower in the taxi…
All the landscape is equally political though politics of the landscape are not singular. Focusing on this multiplicity of the political functions of the landscape, we may be able to discuss this landscape film from a different perspective, as an actual practice for reestablishing the relationship between the self and the landscape. The question of how one can enter into a landscape or how one can imagine her-/himself to be in a landscape, which emerges from Adachi’s later films is equal to questioning how to obtain individual ways of relating to the surrounding environment through concrete practices of her/his everyday life.
As an example of this “concrete practice,” I would like to mention what Adachi said in his talk at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo. In a written document of this talk, “My Life, My Film (Waga Jinsei to Eiga),” Adachi brings up his act of sidling over to the youth (and being treated heartlessly) hanging out in front of the convenience store at night. In another occasion, Adachi explains his act as a kind of rehabilitation for truly put himself back to Japan . What is interesting is that Adachi uses an act of “sidling” for acquiring a certain familiarity with the environment. No matter how trivial and powerless it appears to be, the relationship to the landscape, and the relationship to the world begins from sidling to and talking to (and often just being ignored by) an unaccustomed existence next to oneself. Such actions break down into details before they form a solid image, and give them an alternative layer to what the power designs. Keep on walking, keep on relating, keep on dismantling, and keep on reconnecting… Through accumulation of ordinary actions in our everyday life, a new landscape, which we have never seen might open. It might in fact be a complete barren. Yet, if there is a way to make a hole in the existing landscape, it cannot be other than our continuous practices to imagine a new relationship to the landscape.
A series of practices conducted under the name of “HOTEL ASIA PROJECT” can be understood as the practice focusing on multiple aspects of the existing power-relations. The works presented in the project, even when being exhibited under a single theme, stand independently, and thus present multiple images and texts that are not necessarily tied to each other. Although there is a certain social, political or historical context behind each work, linking contexts of all the works show no clear message. The project merely juxtaposes multiple perspectives and interpretations, or the possibility of multiple misinterpretations. Inviting the audience to build an individual relationship to the work, and filling the space with plural and often chaotic perspectives of her/his accordingly, HOTEL ASIA PROJECT maintains its tiny radicalness. Such challenges might be seen as collecting what construct the existing landscape of our time, turning them into information for breaking down into small parts and remaking them into something else, our new landscape.
THIS TEXT IS WRITTEN FOR THE EXHIBITION “REAL ESTATE / LANDSCAPE.” THE TEXT, IN LARGE PART, DISCUSSES THE FILM “A.K.A SERIAL KILLER” BY MASAO ADACHI, WHICH WAS SCREENED AT THE KITAKYUSHU EXHIBITION (AND WILL NOT BE SHOWN ELSEWHERE).
Adachi, Masao “Waga Jinsei to Eiga (My Life, My Film)” in Gengo Bunka, Meiji Gakuin University, 20 (2003), 217
“An empathy as a traveller of senses strengthened the film” (an interview between Masao Adachi and Philippe Grandrieux) in web D!CE, Retrieved from http://www.webdice.jp/dice/detail/3716/ (May 20th, 2015)
Adachi, Masao at a gallery talk at Gallery SOAP, Kitakyushu, Japan (May 23rd, 2015)
Adachi, Masao “Waga Jinsei to Eiga (My Life, My Film)” in Gengo Bunka, Meiji Gakuin University, 20 (2003), 220
“Masao Adachi talks on Middle East” in Loftradio vol.5, Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M_
UGt-SH9o (February 12th, 2015)