The concrete tunnel at night, with its jarring mix of light and dark, silence and noise, has become almost an archetype of urban loneliness. In the U.S., we’ve seen it repeated in films like “Gattaca” and “Crash,” and last year’s “Drive” extended the symbol, presenting a stylized but lonely and frightening Los Angeles though its desolate nighttime streets.
In Japan, the theme of urban isolation has been explored by writers like Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto, whose protagonists, though surrounded by the crowds of Tokyo, struggle through their lives ultimately alone. Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama paints a similar picture, looking through his lens at a paradoxical city of constant human encounter and loneliness.
“Fracture: Daido Moriyama,” the noted photographer’s first solo museum exhibition, is on view at the Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd. (at Fairfax), Los Angeles, until July 31.
Born in 1938, Moriyama first came to prominence in the mid-1960s with his gritty depictions of Japanese urban life. His highly innovative and intensely personal photographic approach often incorporates high contrast, graininess, and tilted vantages to convey the fragmentary nature of modern realities. Spanning his early years to present day, the show features nearly 50 works.
“Daido Moriyama’s immensely inventive and prolific achievements make him one of the leading photographers of our era. Inspiring viewers and artists world-wide, Moriyama continues to demonstrate a raw and restless exploration of the fractured realities of modern times, including his most recent color work, appearing for the first time,” observes Edward Robinson, associate curator of LACMA’s Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and curator of the exhibition.
Responding to the rapid changes that transformed post-World War II Japan, Moriyama’s black-and-white works express a fascination with the cultural contradictions of age-old traditions persisting within modern society, along with the effects of westernization and consumerism. Providing a raw, restless vision of city life and the chaos of everyday existence, strange worlds, and unusual characters, Moriyama frequently photographs while on walks through Tokyo — particularly the dark, labyrinthine streets of the Shinjuku district — as well as when traveling on Japan’s postwar highways and during strolls through other urban centers in Japan and abroad.
His work suggests the bold intuition informing the artist’s ongoing exploration of urban mystery, memory, and photographic invention.
“Fracture” will display the artist’s iconic black-and-white photographs, exemplifying the are, bure, boke (grainy, blurry, out-of-focus) style, in addition to a new installation of recent color work. An accompanying video will feature documentary footage of the photographer at work, exploring by foot and responding to the vibrant cityscape of Tokyo.
Also on view will be a selection of books — Moriyama has published more than 40 to date — that highlights the artist’s highly influential experimentation with reproduction media and the transformative possibilities of the printed page.
A native of Ikeda, Osaka, Moriyama trained in graphic design, then took up photography with Takeji Iwaniya, a professional photographer of architecture and crafts. Moving to Tokyo in 1961, he assisted photographer Eikoh Hosoe for three years and became familiar with the trenchant societal critiques produced by photographer Shomei Tomatsu. Moriyama also drew inspiration from William Klein’s confrontational photographs of New York, Andy Warhol’s silkscreened multiples of newspaper images, and the writings of Jack Kerouac and Yukio Mishima.
His work has been collected by numerous public and private collections internationally, including LACMA, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Getty Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), and the Centre Pompidou (Paris).
Moriyama has had recent major solo shows at The Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris, The Fotomuseum in Winterthur, Switzerland, and the Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Tokyo, and will be exhibited with William Klein at the Tate Modern in London this fall.
In May, Moriyama will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center of Photography in New York, at its 28th annual Infinity Awards event.
Museum hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 12 to 8 p.m.; Friday, 12 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The museum is closed on Wednesday.
General admission: Adults, $15; students (18+ with ID) and senior citizens (62+), $10. Free admission: Members; children 17 and under; after 5 p.m. weekdays for L.A. County residents; second Tuesday of every month; Target Free Holiday Mondays.
Postwar Japanese Films
In conjunction with “Fracture,” LACMA will host a series of postwar Japanese films that have informed Moriyama’s photographic practice. “High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White” will run from May 11 to 19 and June 8 to 9 at the Bing Theater. These films offer a raw, street-level view of Japanese urban life while also confronting such poignant, postwar themes as identity, gender, and alienation. From the taut policiers of Akira Kurosawa and existentialist parables of Hiroshi Teshigahara to rarely screened films by Susumu Hani and Toshio Matsumoto, they shatter social and aesthetic taboos as they delve into a bustling underworld of petty criminals, miscreants, outcasts, revolutionaries, and all other manner of stray dogs.
Friday, May 11
7:30 p.m.: The Face of Another (1966, 124 minutes), directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara.
A visionary work of urban existentialism, this is Teshigahara’s follow-up to his art-house classic Woman in the Dunes. After being disfigured in an industrial accident, wealthy chemist Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) concedes to a face transplant. Fitted with a new identity, he’s sucked into a whirlpool of paranoia and angst. This fragmented portrait of alienation shares the stark, stylized aesthetic of European modernists from Antonioni and Resnais to Godard’s Alphaville and Bergman’s Persona (released the same year as Teshigahara’s film, as was John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, making 1966 a milestone in split-personality cinema).
Teshigahara intensifies the film’s tone of fractured consciousness with a slew of flourishes — freeze-frames, wild zooms, wash-away wipes, surrealist touches, swish pans, and jump cuts. Toru Takemitsu’s eerie and lush electronic score is a fitting accompaniment to this dark fantasy.
Admission: $10 for the general public; $7 for LACMA members, seniors (62+), and students with valid ID; $5 for LACMA Film Club members.
9:40 p.m.: Nanami: The Inferno of First Love (1968, 108 minutes), directed by Susumu Hani.
A groundbreaking filmmaker from the Japanese New Wave whose work has gone largely unseen in the U.S., Hani creates a hallucinatory portrait of big-city adolescence in Nanami. A love story seen through a glass darkly (and a box-office smash in Japan), the film follows a teenage couple — both played by non-actors — as they take fateful steps toward adulthood in the shadow of Tokyo’s teeming Shinjuku district. She finds work as nude model; he uncovers traumas from his childhood. A stark and often sexually explicit rendering of a generation’s aimless drift, Nanami is largely set in shabby hotel rooms, bleak basement studios, and phantasmagoric shantytowns.
Strewn with flashbacks and lapses of delirium, the film is co-written by avant-garde poet/filmmaker/dramatist/photographer Shūji Terayama, who would go on to mine similar terrain in his cult classic film Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1971).
Included with admission to Face of Another; $5 for this film only. Call (323) 857-6010 or purchase online.
Saturday May 12
5 p.m: Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969, 94 minutes), directed by Nagisa Oshima.
Japanese New Wave firebrand Oshima documents the teeming subcultures of Tokyo’s boisterous Shinjuku district, from neo-kabuki street performances to student revolts, in this little-seen masterwork. The film’s splintered narrative involves, in Oshima’s words, “a boy and a girl in search of their rightful moment of sexual ecstasy.” Meeting in a bookstore, the couple embarks on a labyrinthine adventure that recalls the freewheeling misadventures of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina.
Co-written by writer/director Masao Adachi (Go, Go Second Time Virgin), Diary of a Shinjuku Thief is an homage to Jean Genet, whose The Thief’s Journal was repeatedly read aloud by the filmmakers as they drafted their screenplay.
With Shinjuku 1973, 25pm (1973/2006, 17 minutes), directed by Daido Moriyama.
7:30 p.m.: Stray Dog (1949, 122 minutes), directed by Akira Kurosawa.
In Kurosawa’s stylish, pulse-pounding thriller, Toshiro Mifune plays a rookie cop who has his gun pickpocketed in a crowded bus. Things get worse once he learns it’s been used in a robbery and murder. As rubble-strewn, postwar Tokyo swelters in the summer heat, Mifune turns into a “mad dog,” obsessively scavenging for his lost pistol through the city’s underworld.
Based on a true story and adapted from Kurosawa’s own unpublished, Georges Simenon–inspired novel, Stray Dog is a frenetic noir made all the more memorable by Mifune’s fierce performance and a 10-minute-long sequence shot with a hidden camera in Tokyo’s shady black market section.
Tickets: $10 for the general public; $7 for LACMA members, seniors, and students with valid ID; $5 for LACMA Film Club members.
Friday, June 8, 7:30 p.m.: The Pornographers (1966, 127 minutes) and Pigs and Battleships (1962, 108 minutes), directed by Shohei Imamura.
Saturday June 9, 5 p.m.: Funeral Parade of Roses (1969, 105 minutes), directed by Toshio Matsumoto. 7:30 p.m.: High and Low (1963, 142 minutes), directed by Akira Kurosawa.
For reservations, call (323) 857-6010 or click here.