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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hosoe Eikoh: "Navel and the A-Bomb | heso to genbaku" (1960)

Hosoe Eikoh (b. 1933, Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture) was part of a vanguard of Japanese postwar photographers that pursued, in contrast to the ideals of photojournalism as promoted by Natori Yōnosuke (1910-1962), a greater freedom of artistic expression, as well as in Hosoe's case, the liberty to use the camera as a means for recording genre-spanning collaborative efforts - e.g. together with the dancer Hijikata Tatsumi (1928-1986) or the novelist Mishima Yukio (1925-1970) - manifested in his seminal photobook publications Man and Woman (CamerArt Inc., 1961), Barakei (Killed by Roses, Shuei-sha, 1963) and Kaimaitachi (Gendaishichō-sha, 1969). 

In the beginning of 1960 Hosoe was also involved with the relatively unknown "Jazz Film Laboratory," an experimental filmmaking-project initiated by Terayama Shūji (other members included Ishihara Shintarō, Kanamori Kaoru, Takemistu Tōru and Tanikawa Shuntaro) with the intention of producing short movies as a result of their shared interest in Jazz music and cinema. Considering the striking compositional analogies between Hosoe's "Navel and the A-Bomb" and a number of images of fragmented body parts from his above stated 1961 publication Man and Woman - which itself was also influenced amongst other things by Hijikata Tatsumi's first Butoh performance that concluded with the death of a real chicken - Hosoe's film, at the time, already anticipated subsequent photobooks in term of their aesthetic and collaborative qualities as well as political message. In a telling interview with Hosoe dating from 2010, published by the bilingual Japanese online-journal Ko-e Magazine, the artist describes his own cinematic debut as follows:    

"The piece that I contributed was called “Navel and the A-Bomb” (Heso to genbaku). The performers included the Butoh dancers Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Yoshito, as lead and supporting roles, respectively, plus four fishermen from Ohara in Chiba Prefecture and their six children. The story began with that of Adam and Eve, who broke their sacred promise to God by eating fruit from the forbidden tree. God unleashed his anger against the world by detonating the first nuclear explosion on earth, killing every living thing on the planet. Thousands, maybe several million years later, Earth was resurrected and peace was restored. Birds chirped as the children of men played happily by the seashore. Then one man appears in this children’s paradise. The man touches the one thing that is forbidden: the child’s navel. The navel is the key to life, the link to the mother’s womb. This is no place to lay one’s hands for any reason. In our world there is one thing that should absolutely never be touched, and that is, of course, the nuclear button." (from Koe-Magazine, Interview with Hosoe Eikoh, Jan. 2010)