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Original

The unbearable lightness of corn

When we think of art, it is often envisioned as ethereal as floating clouds. I often see it as insubstantial as mist that escapes my grasp. My perspective, however, has started to change while spending time at Atelier Hiko, especially while witnessing how Yacchan creates his artwork. 

My first meeting with the artist Yacchan arose from a misunderstanding. I was riding my bike to Atelier Hiko and thinking about its nagaiya architecture and how it needed restoration work. As I approached, I was excited to hear “Dang Dang Dang,” the steady sound of a carpenter swinging a hammer to a wall. There was a pause and then “Dang Dang Dang,” repeated in cadence. I wanted to find the carpenter and discuss the renovation work.

As I entered the atelier, I saw burly-figured altelier member Yacchan was intensely creating a unique art form. Highly focused, he was knocking in some small colored nails, one by one. His intensity was underscored by the “Fu Fu Fu” of his exhalation at each fall of the hammer.

What I took for granted as the sound of a carpenter’s labor was actually art under creation. I was fooled by my own preconception that art must be a lofty process. How embarrassing is that! The act of hammering nails is not merely limited to construction work, it can be artistic impression. Since Yachan was not knocking nails into the wall, I wondered what medium he was working with to make such a “Dang Dang Dang?” 

Surprisingly, it came from what looked like a thin cardboard tube that seemed to be composed only of many layers of paper. How could thin paper resonate with the sound of hammering?

Yacchan had applied a generous amount of glue mixed with dye to penetrate the surface of the tube which soaked into the absorbent material. After letting it dry, it become almost as solid and durable as dried bamboo stalks. Through this unexpected process, the potential of paper as a canvas for art was unlocked.

For over one-and-one-half hours, Yacchan kept sitting still there, repeating the same sequence – knocking the nails into the paper tube. He relaxed his shoulders, elbows, and wrists, and relied on the weight and force of the hammer to do the work but sweat beaded upon his forehead belying his intensity on this early summer afternoon.

Since the paper tube tends to roll, it is unstable to drive a nail onto it. On top of that, Yacchan holds the paper tube with left hand while having the next 10 pieces of nails to be knocked. At the same time he swings the hammer down with right hand, aiming for the spot he wants to hit. I noticed the intense effort he made to line up the colorful nails in evenly-spaced rows of the same color.

I decided to throw away my preconceptions and experience the scene unfolding in front of me. I wanted to understand why Yacchan is so determined at his task. Was it perhaps the joy in creating that had him so deeply immersed in his art work?

As I was watching the precision of how his right and left hands coordinated together, Ishizaki-san told me that Yacchan’s favorite food was corn, and I immediately perceived it! The shape of the paper tube and the spacing between the nails are reminiscent of the ordered rows of corn on the cob! Had I solved it? If one can create something he loves entirely by relying on himself, then his happiness would be relatable. 

“For Yacchan, the nails may represent ‘unreasonable things’. Every time a countless number of ‘unreasonable things’ are knocked into the paper tube, he feels slightly relieved and his favorite food, corn, can be sublimated.” said Ishizaki-san. I learned from her that Yacchan first started creating his “corn art” when going through a difficult and chaotic time during his middle school graduation. For him, it was an “unreasonable thing” that people had to part from each other at certain times in their lives.  

Another reason may lie in the work itself, I pondered. Yacchan knocks the sharp, painful end of the nail into the center of the paper tube, leaving the flat smooth head of the colored nails in orderly rows on the curved tube. As a result, countless myriad-colored circles are lined up in an orderly manner on its surface. The sharp ends, like thorns that can cause pain, are safely hidden away within. 

Yacchan continues to work with a serious expression on his face and I wondered what emotions fueled his art. Whether it was satisfaction or emotional unrest, like the interior of the paper tube, it was impossible to know what lies beneath. By the time he completed filling the corn full of nails, it was many times heavier than the original paper tube. He however stood up vigorously from his chair with lightness as if unburdened of a weight. I imagined I could feel his satisfaction. 

Within that specific moment, the unbearable weight accumulated from numerous “unreasonable things” he must face, may have partially departed from Yacchan. Yet can he reduce that heaviness without going through the similar process again and again? 

Then, another question arose. How should we confront works of art? Sometimes it feels unobtainable, like grasping at a cloud, and sometimes it we feel a deep meaning and weight that becomes anticipation. Despite attempts by scholars to categorize, define and interpret art objectively, subjective judgments differ depending on each person’s experiences. This is never clearer than with the types of “art brutal” that is created within the ateliers of special artists. In this way, can we see that a heavy corn cob of paper and nails might convey an unbearable lightness?

If you approach works by tossing aside your preconceptions, and then start by embracing the work and exploring how it was created, you can then experience the art through your own lens.

In this way, you may feel a weight and be shaken by your own ambivalent thoughts or sorrowful experiences and feel unable to bear their weight. That is an art experience.

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Original

トウモロコシの耐えられない軽さ

(日本語 編集協力:  石﨑史子)

アートは、雲を掴むような頼りないものだという観点が世の中に存在する。私もそう思っていた。やっちゃんのアートワークを制作過程を目の当たりにしたことから、この考え方が変わり始めた。

やっちゃんとの出会いにあたって、勘違いのエピソードがある。その日、自転車でアトリエひこに向かっていると、あと10メートルのところで金づちで壁を打つような音が響いてきた。「トン、トン、トン」と続く何秒か後に、しばらく空白があり、もう一度「トン、トン、トン」と安定したリズムで音が響く。強いリズム感を持つ大工さんが来ているのか?アトリエひこにある古い建物が改修されているのか?

アトリエの部屋に入ると、たくましいやっちゃんが真剣に創作している姿が見えた。彼は非常に集中力があり、小さいカラー釘一つずつを打つとともに、何か「フン、フン、フン」と微かな声が聞こえた。

あれ、間違えたんだ!当たり前に大工の工事だと思っていた私は、先入観に惑わされてしまったことに気が付き、恥ずかしかった。金づちで釘を打つ行為は、建築の仕事とは限らずに、アートワークの可能性もある。でも、壁を打つのではなく、なんで「トン、トン、トン」という音がするのか。

思い掛けないことに、原因は紙管だ。その紙管は、普通で見られるものではない。紙が幾重にも重ねられた非常に頑丈なもので、元は布地が巻かれていた。やっちゃんはその上に染料を混ぜたボンドをたっぷりと塗り、一週間ほど乾かす。思いもかけない処理によって、紙の潜在的な可能性が解放されそうだ。

1時間半にわたって、やっちゃんはじっと座り、紙管へ釘打ちを繰り返した。肩、肘、手首を脱力させ、金づちの重みと振り落とす力をうまく使って、それでも初夏の午後、彼の額には汗が滲んだ。

紙管が転がりがちなことから、その上に釘を打つのは不安定だ。左手で次に打つ釘を10本ほど持ちながら、紙管を支え、右手で、「ここ」という場所めがけて、金づちを振り下ろす。さらに、ほぼ同じ間隔をあけて、カラー釘を一線打ち並べるのは難しい。

それほどやっちゃんが根を詰めるのはなぜだろう?その没頭の楽しみは何なのだろうか?先入観を捨てて、目の前で繰り広げられている光景を根拠にして、推理しようと思った。

右手と左手がお互いに協力しているのを見ながら、石﨑さんからやっちゃんの大好物はトウモロコシだと聞き、ぴったりだと思った。紙管の形状も釘の間隔も、トウモロコシの穂軸と似ている!それを解決できただろうか?自分の力で、大好きな物を作れば、満足感をいっばいで得られるかもしれない。その感情は共感できるだろう。

「やっちゃんにとっては、釘は「理不尽」を表しているかもしれない。無数の「理不尽」が打ち込まれる度に、少しだけ解消され、大好物のトウモロコシとして昇華される。」と石﨑さんが話しくれた。やっちゃんが初めて「とうもろこしアート」を作り始めたのは、中学卒業式の大変で混乱した時期だったということを石﨑さんから聞いた。彼にとって、人は人生の節目で別れなければならないことは「理不尽」だった。

もう一つは、作品そのものにあるかもしれない。やっちゃんは釘の尖った端を紙管の中央に打ち込み、曲面にはカラー釘の丸くて滑らかな頭を残す。そのため、表面には無数の鮮やかな円が秩序正しく並んでいる。ひるがえって、内側には傷をつけられるような茨を隠している。逆のイメージが一つ作品に凝縮されている。

真剣な顔で制作を続けるやっちゃんの作品にはどんな感情があったのだろうか。それが満足なのか不安なのか、紙管の内側のような心の中の機嫌は分かりにくい。釘だらけのトウモロコシが元の紙管より何倍も重くなっていた。しかし、作品を完成した瞬間、彼ははまるで重荷から解放されたかのように勢いよく椅子を立ち上がった。彼の満足感を感じられるだろうと想像した。

数々の「理不尽」に耐えられずに蓄積してきた重みが、その瞬間にやっちゃんから部分的に離れていったのかもしれない。なのに、同様のプロセスを何度も繰り返さずに、その重さを軽減できるだろうか?

そこで、ある疑問が芽生えることになった。私たちはアート作品を前にどう対峙すれば良いのだろう。時に、雲を掴むような頼りなく、時に、意味が深くて重さが予想となることもある。学者たちは芸術を客観的に分類、定義、解釈しようと試みているが、主観的な判断は各人の経験によって異なる。これは、アトリエひこで作成される「アール・ブリュット」の種類ほど明らかだ。そして、紙と釘で作られた重いトウモロコシが耐えられない軽さを伝える可能性があるのか?

先入観を捨てて、作品を受け入れ、それがどのように作られたのかを探ることから作品に取り組むと、自分自身のレンズを通してアートを体験することができる。アンビバレントない心情に揺さぶられ、耐えられなくなることもあるかもしれない。それこそがアート体験とも言える。

Categories
Original

Please enrich me through the power of your words

I was honored to borrow from Atelier Hiko a collection of Haruna-san’s poems. Upon reading the first few entries, I told Ishizaki-san that I am amazed by the cleverness in her writing. Despite being based mostly on very common daily-use words, the topics were as diverse and compelling as ghosts, heaven, Osaka Pro Wresting, hiking, hot spring baths and birthdays. They were composed into slogans, poems, songs and letters.

As a foreigner who feels the “fish out of water” experience, I’m just grateful to read these thought that I find so genuine and powerful.

Among her fun writings, one poem caught my eye.

***

Email

Meaning dream.

That’s impossible.

It’s messy.

(I’m) still angry.

I will never forgive you.

That’s impossible.

Even if you cry, it’s probably your fault, teacher.

Why don’t you email me?

Hey, teacher.

Next time, you can’t do that again.  

Do you understand?

I’m serious about it.

I won’t forgive you until you cry.
It’s impossible even if you show your guts.

I don’t need a slogan. (*Haruna-san writes slogans to cheer up herself and others.)

That email thing,

Really make it happen, okay?

Make sure to keep doing it until the end.

I won’t forgive if you give up.

Also I want to get you angry.

***

At first glance, I felt that in this poem, she was longing for communication with someone whom she is close to. After not obtaining what she expected, she used strong words expressing the feelings of being hurt and angry.

However, the phrase “I won’t forgive you until you cry” resonated with my own experiences. I recalled a quarrel with my childhood best friend, and a mischievous image of myself emerged. No matter how many times the other apologized, I would pretend to not forgive my friend just to gain more attention from her. Of course I had already forgiven her – that is friendship. It was only at this moment that I started to see the hyperbole in my youthful sentiment.

Did Haruna-san also feel the same way when she wrote this poem?

After reading the poem the second time, I felt that the author has an enviable sincerity. If possible, I would like to borrow Haruna-san’s frankness by saying directly what I want to say. As adults, we often live our lives with too much caution. In a society full of polite behavior, isn’t it really embarrassing to express negative emotions?

If something that I don’t like happened, if something made me angry, if something broke my heart, I would like to say to the other person, “I won’t forgive you until you cry.” That way, both the other person and I would be able to reach a clear resolution (and perhaps a big hug).

I became aware of Haruna’s candor when I visited Ishizaki-san at Atelier Hiko for the fourth time.

It was a Saturday when the largest number of members attends the studio. While composing new poems, Haruna-san talked with other members about her concerns regarding a recent personal matter. Surrounded by a caring atmosphere, I was trusted to be part of the group, even while I was taking notes next to her. As I listened, I couldn’t help but feel that she carried such a sense of courage to openly discuss her disquiet with others.

“Do you have any secret, Haruna-san?” I asked curiously.

“No,” Haruna answered firmly.

I didn’t exactly understand at the time. However, as I’m reading the poetry collection now, I inevitably think of the reason she came up with such a solid answer. Maybe it’s because everything that came to her mind, including personal issues, worries, and anger, was all written down.

Well then, Haruna-san, I want to share in the power of your words! Keep creating and I will continue reading your poetry collections.

Categories
Original

言葉の力をもらいたい

(日本語 編集協力:  石﨑史子)

石﨑さんからお借りした春菜さんの詩集「ハッピバスケチューユ」をご拝読していると、彼女の言葉を操る巧さには驚いた。鬼、天国、大阪プロレス、山登り、温泉、誕生日をスローガン、歌、詩、手紙に書かれる日常に使われる言葉でも、外国人としての私にも力を与えてくれる。ありがとうね、春菜さん!

楽しそうに書かれたものの中で、一つの詩に目を引かれた。

***

メール

意味ゆめ。

ありへん。

ぐだらね。

まだ怒っています。

絶対に許しません。

無理です。

泣いても、先生が悪いやろう。

なんでメールしないの。

なぁ、先生。

次メールしないとあれやで。

わかってるか。

本気行くで。

泣くまで許しません。

こんじょう出しても無理です。

スローガンはいらん。

あれ メールは

してな。

最後までづつけてやってや。

あきらめたらあかんで。

また、おこってほしいわけ。

***

春菜さんが親しい人からコミュニケーションを望んでいたのも感じられ、強い感情を表したことが分かる。ただ怒りの感情とは言えないかもしれない。「泣くまで許しません」というフレーズを読むと、幼い頃の喧嘩を思い出す。相手が何度も謝っても、自分は許さないふりで相手からもっと反応して欲しいというイメージが出てくるのだ。詩の中にもそういういたずらの感情が含まれるのではないか。

この詩を二回も読むと、うらやむべき率直さを感じられる。できるなら、自分で言いたいことを直接に言うという率直さをお借りしたい。大人としての私たちは、慎重になりすぎ、生きているのかもしれない。丁寧な振る舞いに溢れる社会で、ネガティブな感情を表すのは、恥ずかしいことなのか。何か嫌いなことがあったら、何か怒ったことがあったら、何か心を傷つけられったら、相手に「泣くまで許しません」と言いたい。そうすると、自分も相手もはっきりと分かるはずだ。

春菜さんの率直さは、四回目にアトリエひこを訪れたとき理解できた。その日は土曜日で、アトリエひこのメンバー人数は一番多かった。春菜さんは詩を作りながら、自分の悩み事を、皆さんと一緒にしゃべっていた。信頼してもらった私は、思いやりのある雰囲気に包まれ、傍でノートを取っていた。聞きながら、個人的な悩みを他人と話し合う春菜さんの姿に「勇気」を感じてならなかった。

「春菜さんには、秘密がありますか。」と私は興味深く尋ねた。

「ないです。」と春菜さんはきっぱりと答えた。

その時はわからなかった。今詩集を読んでいると、春菜さんのきっぱり答えた理由を考えずにいられない。秘密も、悩み事も、怒りなど心に浮かんだことを全部書いたからだろうか。では、春菜さん、詩集を読み続けさせていただきます。春菜さんの言葉の力をもらいたい!

Categories
Original

Warming-up Is Essential

At first glance, it might seem that trampolines and the spark of artistic creation are entirely unrelated. I discovered how intimately and interestingly connected they could be. When one speaks of artistic creation, it tends to evoke the image of someone peacefully painting in front of a canvas or sculpting clay. So, when I visited the Atelier Hiko, a small-size black trampoline set in the corner attracted my attention. One might wonder what it is doing in an art studio.

Machitaka-san, who attends Artier Hiko every Tuesday, is an active fourteen-year-old boy sporting surprisingly sinewy muscles within his thin body. At 4p.m., he came barging in to the Atelier with the force of a typhoon. Right away, he started to arrange the spacing of the furniture to his own proper proportions – all the chairs in line, the desks divided by the proper distance and everything in its place.

“What is going on?” I thought. As I was trying to figure out the situation, he had already picked up the trampoline from the corner. Very conscious of his surroundings, he made precise adjustments to the positions of the surrounding chairs and desks before placing the trampoline in the middle of the room. Then from a menu-like booklet, he selected a picture card representing a music song. He handed his choice to Ishizaki-san, which I perceived as another significant step in his preparations.

With great anticipation, Michitaka-san went to the trampoline. As the music began, he hopped on with a conspicuous sense of happiness. As if he were a metronome, the piano played along to his well-controlled rhythm. His T-shirt swayed loosely, its slogan “Just do it” seemed to match his dynamic energy.

“He is making a sequence of fast body movements as well as spontaneously incorporating the changes!” I thought. The image reminded me of a trampoline gymnast. On top of controlling the speed of his jumps, I guessed he might be targeted to achieve some awesome movements.

His control reminded me of gymnasts’ determination and skill.  For a moment, I didn’t know whether I was in an atelier or at a sports studio. I wondered what acrobatics he might achieve upon a full-sized trampoline. As an audience, I was eager to applaud his wonderful performance!

Jumping quickly, the excitement built up. Machitaka-san’s face blushed warmly and a bright smile emerged. “So is Machitaki-san, so is Hiko-kun…” as Ishizaki-san’s song drew to a close, his pace accordingly slowed down. I thought his energy was spent, but he promptly went to a nearby desk. With vigorous force, he started to draw with black ink.    

Within just six seconds, a painting began to take shape on the paper. Four circles, reminiscent of the Olympic logo, yet imperfect in shape, were linked together. Each brush stroke conveyed a strong force. “Wait, is it painting or calligraphy?” I pondered. In the way it was painted, it could be seen as four geometric shapes yet it could also be read as four written characters. Zero or circle, character or image, it was impossible for me to decide.

As I was trying to seek for an answer, I found out that they were high-fiving, as if celebrating an awesome accomplishment. “That’s it!” I came to a realization. The art work that Michitaka-san made was not just a solo work; instead, it was a fruitful result of his teamwork with Ishizaki-san.

It was the culmination of arranging the space and the canvas, moving within that space, connecting through music and finally creating his own unique art. For this artist, I felt the whole room was his canvas.

Is this any different than the great calligraphers, preparing their brushes, inks and paper and meditating before making the first brush stroke?

A peaceful meditation, playing an instrument, taking a stroll or intensely bouncing on a trampoline, warming-up is an essential part in the act of artistic creation.

Categories
Original

ウォーミングアップが大切だ

(日本語 編集協力:  石﨑史子)

アトリエひこを訪れる度に、小さな黒いトランポリンが部屋の隅に置かれているのを見ている。芸術の創作というと、キャンバスの前で静かに描くイメージを思い浮かべがちだ。トランポリンと芸術創造は一見関係なさそうに思える。私はどんな面白い繋がりが存在しているのか知らなかった。

火曜日のメンバーである道隆さんは瘦せ型で筋肉をつけつつある十四歳の少年。午後四時頃、アトリエ部屋に入るなり、わくわくして、椅子を並べたり、二つの机を分けたり、空間位置を変えたりしていた。

何が起こっているのか。私が頭を抱えているうちに、彼はトランポリンを隅から拾い上げた。空間に意識を持っているようで、トランポリンを部屋の真ん中に置く前に、周囲の椅子と机の位置を微調整した。準備に手落ちがないように、もう一つ大切な項目は、メニューみたいな冊子から音楽曲の絵カードを選び、石﨑さんへ渡すことだ。

待ちきれない道隆さんはいよいよ楽しそうにトランポリンで飛び跳ね始めた。石﨑さんの弾くピアノ音楽とともに、「Just do it」と書かれたTシャツが彼のジャンプに合わせて上下に揺れていた。音楽のテンポが速くなると、彼は高く飛び上がるほど興奮し、体の動きも活発になっていた。足を前に蹴り出し、手も振っていた。

それほど速やかに動きながらも、即興的に動きの変化を取り入れる道隆さんは私にトランポリン体操選手を思い起こさせた。ジャンプのスピードを自分でコントロールしたうえで、かっこいい動きに挑戦しているのだろうか。

一瞬、アトリエにいるのか、スポーツ会場にいるのか、私はわからなかった。観客として彼の素晴らしいパフォーマンスに拍手を送りたい!

盛り上がりつつ、道隆さんの顔が赤くなり、笑みが浮かんでいるのが見えた。「道隆さんもアイーン、ひこくんもアイーン…」っと、石﨑さんの歌が終わりに近づくと、彼も自然にスピードを落とした。終わりだと思ってたけど、彼は近くの机に直ちに歩いて、勢いよく黒いインクで描いた。

たった6秒ぐらいで、四つのオリンピックのロゴみたいな丸が並んできて、一枚の絵が紙の上に現れた。いいえ、書道なのか。円として見ることもできるが、ゼロとして読み取ることもできる。はっきり判断するのは本当に難しい。

それが何なのか尋ねようとしたが、彼らは祝うかのようにハイタッチすることがわかった。ああ、なるほど!道隆さんのやってきた作品は、単なるソロ作品ではなく、石﨑さんとのチームワークの作品になるのだろうか。

ジャンプしたり、歌ったりすることに続いて、間髪入れずに絵や書が生じる。そういう身体的関係が理論としてあるのかどうかわからないけど、中国の書道家で似ている創作過程を見たことがある。筆を執る前に、作者は目を閉じて瞑想し、始まると、すべての文字を一気に書いた。

静かな瞑想と、片や激しいジャンプ。どちらもウォーミングアップとして大切な時間であり恩恵を受けているのだろう。

Categories
Original

The Twirling Artist

Aki-san is quite tall. I wondered if it was because of his height that he developed a unique perspective from others. I found out he possesses many more abilities.

The first time when I visited Atelier Hiko, I was immediately attracted by a piece of Aki-san’s painting that was set at the entrance. On a one-meter square canvas, there was drawn a blue human face, composed of several circles and no pupils in the eyes.

At a glance, I felt a bit scared, however, I couldn’t help but continue to look and discern more details. Directly beneath the human face was a square-shaped white space occupying the center of the canvas, completely without paint. Meanwhile, outside the white space was filled with blue.

If there was a human face, shouldn’t there be human hands, body or legs, I wondered? Yet where were these parts? The more I searched for a specific answer, the more chaotic it seemed to me. My usual thought processes failed to apply to this scenario. 

As I was gazing at the painting with confusion, Aki-san, instead, was confidently adding colors on the canvas. “Sa, sa, sa,” he hummed. Without hesitation, he quickly moved the paintbrush in random-seeming strokes. The newly painted blue covered the previous one on the canvas, so the two shades of blue quickly overlapped each other.

Rather than regarding it as painting, in my perspective, the paintbrush, as if it was not trapped by anything, was freely dancing on the stage of the white canvas. I was so immersed in watching this scenario that I didn’t notice Aki-san had left his seat.

Just like an orchestra conductor, Aki-san raised his index fingers up in the air. Following that, I heard music played on the piano. From the back of the room, Ishizaki-san was sitting in front of the white piano, playing pleasant music while singing a song. The name Aki was included in her lyrics.

What happened? Did the two of them just spontaneously mirror each other’s actions?

I was amazed at how incredible it was. Aki-san started dancing to the music, spinning like a ballroom performer, and spun to the back of the room.  Humming along with the on-going music, he picked up a reed pen and began drawing with ink on a piece of paper set on the table.   

Far different from what was painted about the human face, the objects drawn on the paper were so much more recognizable. The shapes of the piano Ishizaki-san was playing, a dessert plate and a cup were drawn with lifelike proportions, in his own unique style.

The outlines of objects in Aki-san’s drawings, rather than being a boundary between objects and space, seem to create connection from one object to another. Furthermore, presenting the objects through this impressionism of their outlines seems to provide some sense of freedom.

I can’t help but wonder if that impression remained so strong from his observation of objects while he orbited the studio. While I tend to get caught up in the details of art, Aki-san seems to embrace a more flexible view of things. I’m so jealous of that freedom!

Categories
Original

人と物の間で踊る

(日本語 編集協力:  石﨑史子)

あきさんは背が高い。そのため、彼ならではの視点があるのではと思ったが、実際はそれ以上だった。

初めてアトリエひこを訪れた時、入口近くにあきさんの青い絵があり、目を引いた。縦と横とも1メートルぐらいの大きさのキャンバスに青い顔が描かれた。顔はいくつかの円で構成され、その丸い目には瞳孔がない。

一見すると少し怖いかもしれないけど、細部ををもっと詳しく見たくなる。顔のすぐ下には、正方形ような白いスペースの中で何も描いていなく、キャンパスが空のまま残っている。一方で、白いスペースの外に、青い色がいっぱい入っている。

人の顔があれば、人の手、体や足があるはずじゃないだろうか。で、どこに描かれたのか。私は具体的な答えを探せば探すほど、ますます混乱していた。通常の考え方は全然適用できないように感じられた。

この絵をじっと見つめていて困っている私は、あきさんがキャンバスにしっかりと青色を塗っている姿を見た。「さささ…」っと、躊躇せずにさっと絵筆を動かした。描き出した青色が元の青色を覆って、すぐに新旧青色が重なり合ってしまう。

描くというより、筆が何も閉じ込められることなく、自由にキャンバスを舞台に踊ると言える。私はそんな描き方に夢中になっているところに、あきさんが席を離れていた。

オーケストラを指揮しているかのように、あきさんが人差し指を空中に上げているのが見えた。続いて、ピアノによる音楽が聞こえた。部屋の奥に、石﨑さんは一台白い電子ピアノの前に座り、心地よい音楽を演奏しながら歌っていた。「あきちゃん」を含む言葉も歌詞に入ってきた。

あれ?二人は阿吽の呼吸で音楽を作っているんだろうか。

不思議だと考えていると、あきさんが音楽に合わせて踊ったり、社交ダンスのような回転をしたり、部屋の奥に移動していった。音楽が続くにつれて、彼はハミングしながら、もう一本の葦ペンを手に取って墨で机上の紙に絵を描き始めた。

キャンバスに描いた人の顔とは大きく異なり、紙に描かれた物体はより認識しやすくなった。石﨑さんの弾いているピアノだったり、デザートとコップだったり、その形は私たちの目にする物に近い。でも、明らかに違いがある。

あきさんの描いた絵では、物の輪郭線は物と空間の境界線というより、一筆書きのように物から物へ繋がりがありそうだ。さらに、輪郭線は物から脱出するような自由になりそうだ。

さすが彼が体を動かしながら、物を観察した印象はそれなのだろうかと思わずにはいられない。私の物をじっと見つめる見方とは全然違う。細かいことにとらわれがちな私と異なり、あきさんの描き方も動き方も、もっと自由に見る方法を持っていそうだ。その自由がとても羨ましい!

Categories
Original

A Superhero On Rooftop

Feng was only seven years old but he was a superhero. His power were mainly that of being immune to any appeal beginning with the words, “Do not.”

“Do not touch your food with those dirty bare hands again!” “Do not dare swim in that filthy river again!” “Do not go out onto the plains alone again!” “Do not start a fire again!” So many “do nots.”

Perhaps those words have power coming from gentle mothers who indulge their child or stern fathers who give wise warnings. But for Feng, these admonishments came all too often from his grandpa and the many villagers who felt they had a role. They often said, “It takes a village to punish a child.”

After so many warnings and “Do nots,” the words, and the ear-boxing by the village elders, had lost the power to discourage the curiosity and sense of adventure in a young boy. Instead, “Do not” seemed to Feng like an invitation and became the source of the young hero’s superpowers. It instilled in him the will to explore breathtakingly memorable but forbidden experiences.

Two young boys ran through the yards and around the baked mud walls with sticks serving as laser guns in their imaginary games. “I got you, fall down!” called out the elder boy, Wei.

“No way, you missed,” retorted Feng. “But it’s so hot, lets go over there.”

He indicated the cool shade near the tall barn. Wei wanted to resist but sweat was streaming down his sun-browned face and he followed the younger boy. “OK, but I won.”

Though the days in Gansu’s high desert plains are usually comfortably warm year round, this was one of those days where the plains were baked under the relentless midsummer sunshine.

The two boys flopped down against the barn wall feeling the cool shade. Some curious goats came out of the barn nuzzling the boys for food. All they could do was to pull up handfuls of the brown, tough grass, the only thing to grow in the arid land.

Feng looked up in the clear blue sky with the soft cottony clouds. “I am going to join the airforce and learn to fly. Then I will fly to space like the astronauts.”

“I already can fly,” quipped the older boy.

“No way! You can’t fly.”

“Shh, its a secret,” said Wei conspiratorially. “I did last night.”

“Prove it.”

Wei pursed his lips together and looked away, then shot back “I climbed up on the barn, jumped off and flew all around the village.”

“Oh! Like the kung fu masters in movies?” the younger boy was leaping with excitement. “Then teach me!” Feng jumped eyes wide, glinting with excitement.

Wei already was beginning to regret having made such a claim because Feng was more stubborn than the goats when he got his mind on something.

Feng was looking to the roof and reaching for handholds to try to climb. “Is this where you climbed up? Let’s go.”

Feng tried to clamber up the rough baked mud wall but could not get more than a meter above the ground.

“Do not try to climb the barn, you are too little.” scolded Wei. He did not know that Feng was a superhero and that he had just unlocked his powers.

Feng looked longingly up at the barn roof. He was feeling frustration and almost in tears at not being able to climb. Suddenly his face lit up. Feng got a gleam in his eye. He started running excitedly to the neighbor’s house with Wei tagging along telling him to give up. He went to the side of a shed and returned dragging an improvised ladder. It was made of discarded lumber and bamboo, reused nails and a few repurposed pieces of baling wire.

“You can’t use that, it is junk.” said Wei.

That did not stop Feng from dragging it over to the barn with his tanned arms straining under the weight. Despite Wei’s feeble attempts to discourage him, Feng struggled and strained and in an all-out superhuman effort, the rickety ladder thumped against the edge of the high roof over the baked-mud wall.

Feng looked up reluctantly at the rickety ladder and the great height of the barn roof. He estimated that the ladder was at least twice his age and that the roof was six of him tall. These were reasons to give him pause.

“Do not go up there.” said Wei. This of course gave the boy all the courage he needed.

“Hold the ladder,” Feng said. He started clambering up the improvised ladder.

“Come back down here, the old folks will box your ears!” Wei blustered.

But it seemed nothing could stop the younger boy from undertaking his great adventure. The fear of feeling the slap of grandpa’s belt could not outweigh the reward of adventure.

Feng was teetering as the rickety ladder bowed and swayed. He was half way up by the time he heard a creaking sound followed by a snap as one of the rungs gave way. He froze.

This first-grader’s hands were slippery with sweat that he tried to convince himself was from the scorching midday heat and not from the fear of the height.

Even though Wei was only a year older than Feng, he seemed to have developed an extra decade worth of mischief. Seeing Feng paralyzed with fear, he could not resist shaking the ladder. He hoped the boy would fall from this height or climb down.

But Feng could see that, at nearly four times his own height, a fall to the packed clay ground would be unwise.

“You are too scared, so climb down.” He looked down to see the older boy shaking the ladder.

Feng came back to life, actively swaying his butt from right to left like a metronome in opposition to the undulations of the ladder and then finally he found his balance and new courage. He giggled loudly as he continued clambering up the ladder.

“Do not be stupid! You will fall!” said in a voice filled with authoritative sounding bluster attempting to hide the boy’s nervousness. If the younger boy successfully reached the top, he would have to follow him up there too. Wei’s brow furrowed in worry and regret. It is ironic because it was his exaggerated claims and challenging dare that set Feng off on this adventurous climb.

Feng loudly cheered as he finally reached the rooftop. He landed with a heavy bang. “I did it!” echoed his ecstatic call from the rooftop.

“Be quiet.” Wei hissed as he saw two village women crossing the yard.

In response to the tumult on the rooftop, the chickens sheltering inside the barn from the midday sun suddenly flapped their wings, clucked out of fear and scurried away from their refuge, raising their own indignant protests.

Feng squatted on the straw-made rooftop while he gained his composure. He could see the two aunties striding rapidly and clucking as loud as the hens. But he felt he was already flying high above them. He looked up and saw miles of desert plains without any sign of human habitation. He saw the vast plains of exotic yellows and reds stretching into the distance as he had never seen it before.

“Wei, come up here, it’s just like we saw on the TV about the rovers, it’s Mars!”

Wei saw the two villagers now walking quickly over to the barn, pointing at the roof.

“You will get us in trouble!” Wei scolded. “Climb down or I am taking the ladder. Three…”

“I won’t need it,” shouted Feng joyously. “I will fly to Mars. Come with me, Brother!”

“…Two…”

“To Mars!”

“Oh?” Wei suddenly was captivated and swept into the boy’s enthusiasm. It was often so contagious that sometimes when Grandpa was about to punish the boy, his earnestness would make the old man burst out in laughter instead of anger.

Staring at the peaceful reddish land, Feng felt its irresistible attraction. All the former wild adventures suddenly seemed commonplace compared to the adventure of flying to the red sands.

Wei was under Feng’s spell and started to climb the rungs. He was halted suddenly with the tweak of his tender ear in the aunties’ strong grasp.

“Get down here now, you foolish boy.” The other woman called.

They all looked up in horror and saw Feng with his arms out like airplane wings. He was looking toward the horizon and moving to the edge of the roof as if in a trance.

“I didn’t fly. Do not jump.” Wei called out.

The confession came too late. Feng heedlessly bounded towards the edge of the roof and then he disappeared from from sight.

The aunties screamed out and Wei began to wail in piteous tears. They abandoned Wei to his sorrows and began waddling like ducks around the side of the barn, expecting to be greeted by a horrendous scene.

A low cack-cack-cackling came from inside the barn.

Feng could feel the rough straw of the hay loft where he fell through the thatched straw roof. A hen cocked its head curiously looking down at the boy. There was commotion below.

“How could you lie to Feng like that? Boys can’t fly!”

Feng and the hen both looked out from the cracks in the barn boards and could see the women boxing Wei’s ears.

Mars would have to wait.

The Qaidam Basin in North Tibetan Plateau is a Martian analogue. 
Categories
Original

Crossing the Divide

A film review of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.

Art-house movies, made primarily for aesthetic reasons, enjoy the privilege of not following mainstream narrative formulas. Much of the Asian arthouse fare centers on family drama as low-budget vehicles to gain international film festival attention. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s tenth work is an exception to this trend.

Shedding light on the impact of chance encounters, the 2021 Japanese drama, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy偶然與想像 ), weaves an anthological tapestry of tales encompassing a love triangle, a failed seduction and a romantic encounter that results from a misunderstanding.

Unlocking The Charm of Arthouse Movies

It can be a great challenge to define the theme of arthouse films especially when it’s divided into three independent segments.

Encapsulated in the three short stories, Magic, Door Wide Open, and Once Again, this film presented three female protagonists at the age of 20s, 30s and 40s. Coincidentally or not, the chronological order did deliver a sense of growing maturity in facing relationships.

While Hamaguchi often chooses female characters, his works, including this one, are not feminist stories but are reminiscent in sensibility to the works of Eric Rohmer – seeking to reveal the interior imagination of characters.

The movie’s Japanese title is Guzen to Sozo (lit. Coincidence and Imagination) but it seems more like karma that mere coincidence, because it unfolds a philosophical manifesto – both small miracles and devastating tragedies can be born from a minor coincidence. In Buddhist teachings, misconceptions, illusions and desires, especially about the self, bring about suffering.

Each of the three stories explored characters seeking to transcend the isolation in their lives.The social distance in modern society, especially in Japan, is a burden leaving many to feel isolated. It is a scary thing to reach across the divide to seek a connection.

That said, the initial scene of the second installment where a university classroom conducted a group assignment – a teacher asked students the question of “What makes people feel distant?” – could be a key to comprehend the movie theme. It almost seems like a throwaway scene, as none of these are characters within the film yet it might set the tone for the central theme binding the three seemingly disparate works.

Minimalist In Narrative

The aesthetics of minimalism widely defined the production design in this movie through its best use of limited budget, prioritizing the essential and maintaining simple forms.

Director Hamaguchi addressed each segment simply with three characters and no more than five scenes. One essential scene dominated most of the screen time of each short. A young entrepreneur’s company, a college professor’s office and a housewife’s home. Despite contained settings, these key scenes were charged with dramatic and enticing twists in conversation.

With almost no camera movement and restrained use of editing, Hamaguchi put more emphasis on the actors’ talents, which offers moviegoer an experience akin to watching stage plays with riveting performances.

Some reviewers criticized the last segment as low-energy and flat compared to the first two stories, but it is carried by delightful performances and it perhaps most deeply explores the themes most essential to the film’s title.

The movie is a delicate presentation that does take a mature exploration into the suffering of the heart faced with the division of society.

Synopses (Spoiler Alert)

Magic

At the outset, the story showed Meiko (Kotone Furukawa), a model in her early twenties, making poses at a fashion shoot. She had an older friend Tsugumi (Hyunri) who shared the ride home after the shoot. In this taxi journey, Tsugumi revealed a romantic encounter that she felt could be the love of her life. Meiko prompted her friend to tell all and we learn that her date, Kaz, was still carrying a wound from his previous love.

After the friends departed, Meiko gave the taxi a different destination. She confronted Kaz (Ayumu Nakajima), a handsome entrepreneur, at his office and it was revealed she was the ex-love who broke his heart.

Both former lovers still harbored unresolved pain in their break up and, as the daggers flew, Meiko came to realize her past immaturity and a penchant for hurting the ones she loved. The two come to an embrace and perhaps renewed passions, but they were interrupted and Meiko escaped into the night.

Meiko put her self-reflection to the test during a chance encounter of the love triangle. Meiko both realized that she truly loved Kaz and wanted desperately to recapture his heart, but developed the mature insight not to hurt these two people she loved most, removing herself from the triangle.

Door Wide Open

Following the sense of a female’s maturation, the next segment portrayed a more sophisticated character who still lacked spiritual growth. It also explored the effects of coincidence.

An undergraduate student and housewife, Nao (Katsuki Mori), felt isolated from younger classmates, had an unsatisfying friends-with-benefits affair with a handsome but underachieving student Sakai (Shouma Kai). Sakai convinced her to conspire against Professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shubukawa) who he claimed wronged him.

Segawa was known for his open door as he would rather expose even indelicate matters that conduct business behind closed doors. Nao attempted to seduce the professor by reading an erotic scene from the professor’s award-winning novel, and attempted to close his office door to offer the hint of intimate interaction.

The professor, however, seeming to take the bait of the “honey-trap”, approached her but, instead, reopened his door. In consideration of his reserve, Nao exposed to him the seduction scheme, which inspired them to reach a mutual agreement. He confessed he admired Nao for acting and thinking without being bound by social rules that distance people.

Despite his restraint and honor, a coincidence turned their unrequited relation into a public scandal ending his career and her marriage. Years later, Nao randomly encountered Sakai who had become a socially successful editor but had no interest in literature.

Undergraduate student Nao (Katsuki Mori), reads from the award-winning novel written by her previous professor Segawa (Kiyohiko Shubukawa).

Once Again

Injuries, especially those of the heart, can leave deep scars. This third segment explored a creative human solution to ease the emptiness of loss.

Set within a sci-fi premise that a computer virus disabled all digital connection, Moka (Fusako Urabe) in her 40s travelled to a high-school reunion in a failed attempt to reconnect with the love of her life. Moka was convinced when she randomly ran into a woman on an escalator. Isolated in the role of housewife, the lonely Aya was obviously overwhelmed and bewildered as she hadn’t met teen friends for long while. Being polite to the woman who she did not recognize, Aya assumed Moka must be her former classmate so she invited Moka to her home for tea.

After revealing their mistaken identities, Aya came up with a creative idea to fulfill the void Moka had endured for decades. For a brief moment through a surreal role-play, they both found a warm closure to console their unhappy souls.

Moka (right, Fusako Urabe) mistook Nana (Aoba Kawai) as her first love. They made a role play to find closure to their life-long regrets.

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